US & Canada

US Congress reaches deal on Russia sanctions bill

A key section of the bill mandates a congressional review if Trump attempts to ease or end the sanctions against Moscow.

Democrat Steny Hoyer said legislators had settled lingering issues with the bill, which also includes economic penalties against Iran and North Korea [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

Congressional Republicans and Democrats in the United States announced on Saturday they had reached an agreement on a sweeping Russia sanctions package to punish Moscow for meddling in the presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said legislators had settled lingering issues with the bill, which also includes stiff economic penalties against Iran and North Korea.

The US' sanctions targeting Russia, however, have drawn the most attention due to President Donald Trump's persistent push for warmer relations with President Vladimir Putin and ongoing investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 campaign.

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Passage of the bill, which could occur before Congress breaks for the August recess, puts Capitol Hill on a possible collision course with Trump. The White House had objected to a key section of the bill that would mandate a congressional review if Trump attempted to ease or end the sanctions against Moscow.

But if Trump were to veto the bill, he risks sparking an outcry from Republicans and Democrats and having his decision overturned.

The sanctions review was included in the bill because of wariness among legislators from both parties over Trump's affinity for Putin.

According to the bill, Trump is required to send Congress a report explaining why he wants to suspend or terminate a particular set of sanctions. Legislators would then have 30 days to decide whether to allow the move or reject it.

An 'essential' sanctions bill

The precise mechanics of how involved House Democrats would be in the review process had been a key sticking point, but Hoyer said he's satisfied with the outcome.

"The legislation ensures that both the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration's implementation of sanctions," Hoyer said.

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Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer called the sanctions legislation "strong" and he expected the legislation to be passed promptly.

"Given the many transgressions of Russia, and President Trump's seeming inability to deal with them, a strong sanctions bill such as the one Democrats and Republicans have just agreed to is essential," said Schumer.

The House and Senate negotiators addressed concerns voiced by American oil and natural gas companies that sanctions specific to Russia's energy sector could backfire on them to Moscow's benefit. The bill raises the threshold for when US firms would be prohibited from being part of energy projects that also included Russian businesses.

The sanctions on North Korea bar ships owned by North Korea or by countries that refuse to comply with UN resolutions against it from operating in American waters or docking at US ports. Goods produced by North Korea's forced labour would be prohibited from entering the US.

The sanctions package imposes mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran's ballistic missile programme and anyone who does business with them. The measure would apply "terrorism" sanctions to the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and enforce an arms embargo.

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House Majority Leader Republican Kevin McCarthy posted a legislative business schedule that shows the sanctions bill will be voted on Tuesday. McCarthy had pushed to add the North Korea sanctions to the package. The House had overwhelmingly passed legislation in May to hit Pyongyang with additional economic sanctions, but the senate had yet to take up the bill.

The senate last month passed sanctions legislation that targeted only Russia and Iran.

Congressional aides said there might be resistance among Senate Republicans to adding the North Korea penalties, but it remained unclear whether those concerns would further stall the legislation. The aides were not authorised to speak publicly and requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

"North Korea, Iran and Russia have in different ways all threatened their neighbours and actively sought to undermine American interests," McCarthy and Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a joint statement.

"The bill the house will vote on next week will now exclusively focus on these nations and hold them accountable for their dangerous actions."

Source: News agencies