US House votes to sanc­tion Rus­sia, Iran, North Korea

Kuwait Times - - NEWS -

The US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives voted over­whelm­ingly Tues­day to im­pose tough new sanc­tions on Iran, North Korea and Rus­sia, a move that will an­tag­o­nize the Krem­lin as well as Euro­pean na­tions fear­ing eco­nomic ram­i­fi­ca­tions. The mea­sure no­tably con­strains Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s abil­ity to waive the penal­ties. The sanc­tions pack­age, which passed 419 to three af­ter weeks of ne­go­ti­a­tions, “tight­ens the screws on our most dan­ger­ous ad­ver­saries in or­der to keep Amer­i­cans safe,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said af­ter the vote.

The mea­sure now heads to the Se­nate, where there is sup­port for sanc­tions but de­bate about whether to in­clude penal­ties on North Korea. The leg­is­la­tion is the re­sult of a con­gres­sional com­pro­mise reached last week­end and is aimed at pun­ish­ing the Krem­lin for med­dling in the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. “Un­der Vladimir Putin, Rus­sia has in­vaded its neigh­bor Ukraine, seiz­ing its ter­ri­tory and desta­bi­liz­ing its govern­ment,” House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Royce said in ap­plaud­ing pas­sage. “Left unchecked, Rus­sia is sure to con­tinue its ag­gres­sion.”

But the bill could end up pe­nal­iz­ing Euro­pean firms that con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of Rus­sia’s en­ergy sec­tor. New sanc­tions against Iran and its Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, which stands ac­cused of sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism, and North Korea, for its mis­sile tests, are also in­cluded in the bill. Key among the pro­vi­sions is one that hand­cuffs the US pres­i­dent by com­pli­cat­ing any of the leader’s uni­lat­eral ef­forts to ease penal­ties against Moscow in the fu­ture - ef­fec­tively plac­ing him un­der Congress’s watch.

Trump has faced ac­cu­sa­tions that his ad­min­is­tra­tion had sought to re­as­sure Moscow that sanc­tions im­posed near the end of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion could be lifted un­der a Pres­i­dent Trump. Ini­tially, Trump re­sisted the leg­is­la­tion. But faced with near-to­tal con­sen­sus among Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, the White House blinked, but did not say di­rectly that the bil­lion­aire pres­i­dent would sign it into law. “While the Pres­i­dent sup­ports tough sanc­tions on North Korea, Iran and Rus­sia, the White House is re­view­ing the House leg­is­la­tion and awaits a fi­nal leg­isla­tive pack­age for the pres­i­dent’s desk,” spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said.

Veto likely not ef­fec­tive

In mid-June, the Se­nate voted 98-2 in fa­vor of tough sanc­tions on Moscow and Tehran, but the text stalled in the House. With the North Korea sanc­tions now in­cluded, the new mea­sure would need to be passed by the Se­nate be­fore head­ing to the White House, likely be­fore sum­mer break be­gins in mid-Au­gust. Top Se­nate Demo­crat Chuck Schumer said he wants the new mea­sure passed and sent to Trump’s desk “with­out de­lay”.

US law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing Repub­li­can lead­ers, have re­mained wary of the in­ten­tions of the bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man-turned-pres­i­dent - who has called for bet­ter re­la­tions with Moscow - re­gard­ing a re­lax­ation of pres­sure on Putin. But even if Trump were to veto the leg­is­la­tion, Congress would likely be able to over­come such a block­age with a two-thirds ma­jor­ity in each cham­ber.

Rus­sia calls sanc­tions ‘coun­ter­pro­duc­tive’

The Krem­lin warned that fresh sanc­tions on Rus­sia would ad­versely af­fect both sides. “We con­sider such a con­tin­u­a­tion of the rhetoric of sanc­tions counter-pro­duc­tive and harm­ful to the in­ter­ests of both coun­tries,” Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mon­day. From Paris to Ber­lin, the sanc­tions bill was seen as a uni­lat­eral ac­tion by Wash­ing­ton that dis­rupts a care­fully crafted or­der. To date, sanc­tions against Moscow have been co­or­di­nated on both sides of the At­lantic, to main­tain a united front.

Euro­pean Union mem­ber states were due to meet Wed­nes­day and dis­cuss the is­sue - and a pos­si­ble re­sponse. Sev­eral Euro­pean na­tions, in­clud­ing Ger­many, are livid be­cause the new law would al­low pun­ish­ing com­pa­nies work­ing on pipe­lines from Rus­sia, for ex­am­ple by lim­it­ing their ac­cess to US banks. The pro­vi­sion could the­o­ret­i­cally pave the way for sanc­tions against Euro­pean part­ners in Nord Stream 2, a project to build a pipe­line car­ry­ing Rus­sian gas across the Baltic that could boost sup­plies to Ger­many from 2019.

To date, Wash­ing­ton and Brus­sels had agreed that sanc­tions would not af­fect Europe’s gas sup­ply. In an ap­par­ent con­ces­sion, the House mod­i­fied a pro­vi­sion so the bill only tar­gets pipe­lines orig­i­nat­ing in Rus­sia, spar­ing those that merely pass through, such as the Caspian pipe­line that car­ries oil from Kaza­khstan to Europe. -— AFP

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