Lawmakers forge sanctions deal
Senator drops objection to measure’s North Korea penalties
WASHINGTON — House and Senate Republicans have worked out a deal to move quickly on a package of new financial sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, clearing the way for Congress to send the legislation to President Donald Trump, a congressional leader said late Wednesday.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that he and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had reached an agreement that removed the last obstacle to passing the bill. The measure hits the three U.S. foes with additional penalties.
The House had overwhelmingly approved the legislation Tuesday, 419-3. But Corker had objected to including the sanctions targeting Pyongyang in the legislation. He wanted to keep the North Korea penalties in a separate bill that the Senate would consider.
But Corker dropped his objections. He said the Senate will “move to approve” the House-passed bill after receiving assurances the North Korea sections would be finetuned at a later date.
“Going forward, the House has committed to expeditiously consider and pass enhancements to the North Korea language, which multiple members of the Senate hope to make in the very near future,” he said.
The sanctions against Moscow are punishment for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria. According to the bill, Trump would be barred from easing the Russia sanctions without first getting permission from Congress, a demand that could imperil his bid for better relations with Moscow.
A version of the sanctions legislation that only addressed Russia and Iran cleared the Senate nearly six weeks ago with 98 votes.
“Not a word of the North Korea bill has been looked at over here. Not a word,” Corker told reporters earlier on Wednesday as he explained his concerns.
But House lawmakers fired back, noting that the House decisively passed a North Korea-only sanctions bill in May, yet the Senate never took that bill up. They added that it’s all the more important to push ahead with the North Korea sanctions after U.S. intelligence officials released a report Tuesday showing that they believe Pyongyang will have a reliable, intercontinental missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon as early as next year.
“That is why the House added the previously Housepassed North Korea sanctions bill — which has been languishing in the Senate for over two months — to the Senate bill,” said Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy.
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he has no objections to making the North Korea sanctions part of the overall package.
“There’s nothing in the bill that I find problematic,” he said. “I hope we pass it the way it is.”
Russian legislators, meanwhile, called Wednesday for “painful” measures against the United States in response to the U.S.’ plans for new sanctions, and the Kremlin focused more on the damage to relations between Washington and Moscow.
Apart from demanding a tough response, many in Russia declared dead any hope for improved relations with Washington under Trump, and there were suggestions that European pique over the proposed measures created an opening for an anti-U.S. alliance.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, noted that the proposed U.S. law was still a draft. Any substantial response by Putin would require more study, he said.
“In the meantime, it can be said that the news is quite sad with regard to Russia-U.S. relations and prospects for their development.” He added that it was “no less depressing with regard to the international law and international commercial relations.”
Similar sentiments emerged from several European capitals. In Paris, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the new sanctions against the three nations appeared to contradict international law because of their global reach.
In Germany, the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday expressed continued concern about the U.S.’ moves, while saying changes made in the bill passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday are steps in the right direction. That bill calls for U.S. coordination with European Union allies before sanctions are applied.
Germany is holding to its position that sanctions rules must not be used as a tool to influence specific industries, said Martin Schaefer, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. Still, Germany welcomed the latest legislative proposal regarding U.S.-EU cooperation prior to implementing sanctions, Schaefer said. Information for this article was contributed by Richard Lardner of The Associated Press; by Neil MacFarquhar of The New York
Times; and by Rainer Buergin and Arne Delfs of Bloomberg News.