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31 July 2017, 12:54 | Colleen Roy
US Senate passes sanctions bill against Russia, Iran and North
Russian diplomatic property was confiscated by the Obama administration in 2016, in response to alleged Russian meddling in the USA election.
The new package of sanctions aims to hit President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle by targeting alleged corrupt officials, human rights abusers and crucial sectors of the Russian economy, including weapons sales and energy exports.
It is the first major foreign policy legislation approved by Congress under Trump, who has struggled to advance his domestic agenda despite Republicans controlling the Senate and House of Representatives. But rejecting it could lead to an embarrassing veto override, as the bill cleared both chambers by wide margins, and lead to criticism that he's seeking to protect Russian Federation.
"This bill ensures Congress will continue to play a leading role in defending the American people and our allies from these serious threats while providing the Trump administration appropriate national security flexibility", he said.
With near unanimous support in both chambers of Congress, this legislation sends a strong signal to Iran, Russia and North Korea that USA will stand firm and united in the face of their destabilising behaviour, said Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The bill, which the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed by wide margins this week, toughens sanctions on the three nations - specifically with Russian Federation over its presence in Ukraine and Syria, as well as the intelligence community's belief that Russian Federation tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Moscow has told the USA to reduce the number of its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people, and is also halting the use of embassy storage facilities in the capital, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
"The Russian side is suspending the use of all storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow, and a cottage in Serebryaniy Bor by the US Embassy in Russia as of August 1", the ministry said in a statement.
The bill threatens to further derail U.S. It is, however, expected to garner enough support to override a Trump veto.
Corker had earlier objected to including the North Korean sanctions, initially favoring to address that issue in a separate bill.
The sanctions are over Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and alleged interference in the USA election. He's repeatedly cast doubt on the conclusion of USA intelligence agencies that Russian Federation sought to tip the election in his favour.
Trump's vow to extend a hand of cooperation to Russian President Vladimir Putin has been met with resistance as skeptical lawmakers look to limit the executive power's leeway to go easy on Moscow over its meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The bill raised the threshold for when US firms would be prohibited from being part of energy projects that also included Russian businesses.
The ministry said the number was being cut to 455 diplomats.
The North Korea sanctions are meant to thwart Pyongyang's ambition for nuclear weapons by cutting off access to the cash the reclusive nation needs to follow through with its plans. Goods produced by North Korea's forced labour would be prohibited from entering the United States, according to the bill.
Germany and Austria in recent weeks criticized the planned penalties, saying they could affect European businesses involved in piping Russian natural gas.
The Europeans find the mention of the Nord Stream-2 project in the bill very worrisome.
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