Senate passes sweeping sanctions bill targeting Iran, Russia

Lindsey Graham

The U.S. Senate voted 98-2 Thursday to approve sweeping sanctions against Russian Federation and make it harder for President Donald Trump to ease punitive measures against Moscow.

The measure is meant to punish Russian Federation for meddling in the 2016 USA election, its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and support for Syria's government in the six-year-long civil war.

The amendment - which passed 97-2 - creates new sanctions in several categories, including those "conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government", people doing business with Russian intelligence and defense agencies, and those "supplying weapons to the Assad regime" in Syria or engaged in corruption or human rights abuses. Additionally, the sanctions include a provision that prevents President Trump from lifting sanctions against Russian Federation without the consent of Congress. Sen.

"I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions", Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday in an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Senate and House of Representatives still need to sign off on the full bill before it would reach Trump's desk for final approval.

The bill, imposing another round of sanctions on Russian Federation, was passed in a 97-2 vote on Wednesday and is yet to be considered by the House of Representatives.

A day earlier, the Senate voted to adopt an amendment to the bill that would expand sanctions against Russia, CBS News reported.

The only senators who voted against the measure were Republicans Rand Paul and Mike Lee. "This bipartisan amendment is the sanctions regime that the Kremlin deserves for its actions", said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a leader of the push for the legislation.

The bill penalizes Moscow for interfering in the 2016 election by imposing sanctions on key sectors of Russia's economy, including mining, metals, shipping and railways.

The restrictions on President Trump to lift sanctions on Russian Federation grew out of a directive from the president his first week in office seeking a review of all sanctions imposed by the USA government.

If passed, the measure could hamper ongoing talks between Trump administration officials and their Kremlin counterparts to remove the "irritants" in their relationship, beginning with the return of Russia's diplomatic compounds that were seized by Obama previous year.

The House will take up the legislation next, although it has not yet scheduled any vote. That measure reflected Republican complaints that Obama had overstepped the power of the presidency and needed to be checked by Congress. "But look, this bill is going to become law", Corker told reporters on Wednesday.

The Trump administration is reviewing the Senate measure, according to a White House official, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

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