Sat, Jun 17, 2017 - Page 7 News List

US Senate votes 98-2 for sanctions on Russia, Iran

SIGNAL TO MOSCOW:The legislation would require the US president to get Congress’ approval before easing, suspending or lifting any sanctions on Russia

Reuters, WASHINGTON

The US Senate on Thursday voted nearly unanimously for legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia and force US President Donald Trump to get Congress’ approval before easing any existing sanctions on Moscow.

In a move that could complicate Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Moscow, the Senate backed the measure by 98-2.

Republican Senator Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, were the only two “no” votes.

The measure is intended to punish Russia for meddling in last year’s US election, its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for Syria’s government in the six-year-long civil war.

If passed in the US House of Representatives and signed into law by Trump, it would put into law sanctions previously established via former US president Barack Obama’s executive orders, including some on Russian energy projects.

The legislation also allows new sanctions on Russian mining, metals, shipping and railways, and targets Russians guilty of conducting cyberattacks or supplying weapons to Syria’s government.

“The legislation sends a very, very strong signal to Russia, the nefarious activities they’ve been involved in,” US Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, as lawmakers debated the measure.

If the measure became law, it could complicate relations with some countries in Europe. Germany and Austria said the new punitive measures could expose European companies involved in projects in Russia to fines.

The legislation sets up a review process that would require Trump to get Congress’ approval before taking any action to ease, suspend or lift any sanctions on Russia.

Trump was especially effusive about Russian President Vladimir Putin during last year’s US election campaign, although his openness to closer ties to Moscow has tempered somewhat, with his administration on the defensive over investigations into Russian meddling in the election.

Putin dismissed the proposed sanctions, saying they reflected an internal political struggle in the US, and that Washington’s policy of imposing sanctions on Moscow had always been to try to contain Russia.

The bill also includes new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and other activities not related to the international nuclear agreement reached with the US and other world powers.

To become law, the legislation must pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump. House aides said they expected the chamber would begin to debate the measure in coming weeks.

However, they could not predict if it would come up for a final vote before lawmakers leave Washington at the end of next month for their summer recess.

Senior aides said they expected some sanctions package would eventually pass, but they expected the measure would be changed in the House.

The Trump administration has pushed back against the bill, and Republicans hold a commanding 238 seats against 193 for Democrats in the chamber.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday questioned the legislation, urging Congress to ensure that any sanctions package “allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.”

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