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U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., left, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., center, and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, speak to the Associated Press in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 4, 2018. A U.S. senator who is part of a congressional delegation visiting Russia says Moscow could help improve ties by not meddling in the midterm U.S. election in November. (AP Photo/Maria Danilova)

US senator: Moscow must not meddle in the 2018 election

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MOSCOW (AP) — Visiting U.S. senators on Wednesday urged Russia not to meddle in the U.S. midterm election in November if it wants to improve strained bilateral ties.

The senators were in Russia as part of a congressional visit taking place two weeks ahead of a summit between the nations' presidents in Helsinki.

Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, called for a "change in behavior" on the part of Moscow.

Sergey Lavrov, Richard Shelby
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, listens to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., third right, during his meeting with U.S. congressional delegation as U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. attends the talks in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 3, 2018. The U.S. congressional delegation is scheduled to meet with senior Russian officials amid preparations for a summit between the nations' presidents. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

"The best way to demonstrate this as we head into the 2018 election is to show the American people and our congress and our administration that the Russians have no intention of messing or playing with the American election," Thune told The Associated Press in an interview.

Richard Shelby, a senator from Alabama who heads the delegation, brought up the topic of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"I think it's a given in the United States, in both parties, that Russia tried to meddle and probably did meddle in the election," Shelby told the AP.

Senator Jerry Moran from Kansas said all Russian officials they spoke to denied that. "It was simply a denial on their part that it occurred."

Shelby added, however, that despite deep disagreements, the meeting was a useful step in improving ties.

Sergey Lavrov, Richard Shelby
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, back to a camera, listens to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., right, during his meeting with U.S. congressional delegation in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 3, 2018. The U.S. congressional delegation is scheduled to meet with senior Russian officials amid preparations for a summit between the nations' presidents. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

"We also told them that even though our relationship is strained, it would be better for the world for us to be competitors, always, rather than adversaries. But we'll have to see what happens."

Russia-U.S. ties have been bitterly strained by the fighting in Ukraine, the Syrian war and allegations of election meddling.

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