Italy compensates Lithuania for Soviet embassy grab

Italy agreed Thursday to hand over a property in central Rome to Lithuania as compensation for an embassy building seized by the Soviet Union on the eve of World War II.

Lithuania will take over 700 square metres (7,500 square feet) in Palazzo Blumenstihl free-of-charge on a 99-year lease, under the deal signed by Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and his Lithuanian counterpart Linas Linkevicius.

"De facto it becomes our property," Linkevicius said of the premises worth an estimated nine million euros ($11.8 million).

The deal must still be approved by Italian lawmakers.

In 1940, Lithuania was forced to leave its embassy building in Rome, known as Villa Lituania, soon after the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic state under Moscow's secret Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany.

After the war Europe and the United States refused to recognise Moscow's takeover of Baltic states, and Lithuania has sought compensation for the embassy since it regained independence from the Soviet Union.