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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Trump to Approve Sanctions Bill; Russia Imposes Its Own

By VOA News July 29, 2017

The White House says President Donald Trump approves of Congress' new sanctions against Russia and he intends to sign the bill.

In a statement Friday, the press secretary said the president had reviewed the final version of the bill, which outlines additional sanctions against a wide range of Russian industries. The bill also gives Congress the ability to block the president from lifting the Russia sanctions.

The Trump administration had opposed the sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for interfering in last year's U.S. presidential election. The White House argued that it needed flexibility in trying to improve relations between the two countries. But after months of investigations into contacts between Russian officials and members of Trump's campaign team, there was broad bipartisan support in both houses of Congress for more stringent measures.

Russia responds with sanctions

Russia responded earlier Friday to the sanctions with new measures targeting U.S. missions in the country. Moscow said Washington must reduce the number of diplomatic and technical staff working in U.S. missions in Russia to 455 by September 1. That's same number of Russian diplomats and technical staff Moscow said are working in the United States. It is unclear how many Americans that would affect, but it could be in the hundreds.

In addition to the reduction in U.S. diplomatic personnel, Russia also said it would block the U.S. Embassy in Russia from accessing its warehouses in Moscow and a vacation compound in Serebryany Bor.

"We also reserve the right to take other measures according to the principle of reciprocity, which may affect the interests of the United States," the ministry said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement Saturday on the U.S. sanctions legislation, a day after a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"The near-unanimous votes for the sanctions legislation in Congress represent the strong will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States," he said. "We hope that there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues and these sanctions will no longer be necessary.

"We will work closely with our friends and allies to ensure our messages to Russia, Iran and North Korea are clearly understood."

Putin approves decision

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Russian leader had personally approved Friday's Foreign Ministry decision.

"The form in which the sanctions bill emerged from the Senate had greater significance," Peskov said.

The Russian retaliation was celebrated in Moscow as a long-overdue response to actions from the previous U.S. administration.

In December 2016, former President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and seized Russian Embassy compounds in Maryland and New York as punishment for Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential elections.

At the time, Putin chose not to respond, a move many saw as a gesture of goodwill to the incoming Trump administration, which had expressed a desire for improved relations with Moscow.

Yet Friday's move reflected growing Russian frustration that the Trump White House, besieged by multiple investigations into its ties to Russia during the campaign, had not delivered on its campaign promises.

"We did everything in our power to save relations from disaster, but the Americans did just the opposite," wrote Konstantin Kosachev in a post to Facebook. Kosachev, a Russia politician, went on to call the retaliation "long overdue."

Sergey Markov, a political analyst close to the Kremlin, also cheered the Kremlin's decision as inevitable, writing on Facebook that "hopes that the president of the United States could change relations with Russia for the better are over."

The bill U.S. senators approved Thursday also imposes new sanctions on Iran and North Korea. For Russia, the measures are designed to affect a wide range of Russian industries, hitting the country squarely in the pocketbook.

The European Union has expressed concern about the new sanctions, saying they could affect the European energy sector.

Praise on Capitol Hill

Daniel Fried, an Obama-era official who coordinated the administration's sanctions policy, told VOA he didn't think the move by Congress to block Trump from altering sanctions would affect a bilateral settlement, but rather was meant to stop Trump from lifting the sanctions "for no good reason."

"I think if there were a settlement and if this were generally acceptable to all the parties, including Ukraine, I think that Congress would not stand in the way of the administration lifting the Ukraine-related sanctions," he said.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers praised the group effort to pass the bill quickly. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, said in a statement: "I am pleased the Senate has acted overwhelmingly to give the administration much-needed economic and political leverage to address threats from Iran, Russia and North Korea. This bipartisan bill is about keeping America safe, and I urge the president to sign it into law."

Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who is vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Senate Banking Committee, said, "This bill passed with overwhelming majorities in both the Senate and the House, sending a strong message to Vladimir Putin that attacks on our democracy will not be tolerated. President Trump should sign this bill as soon as it hits his desk. Otherwise, he risks encouraging Russia's interference in future elections."

VOA's Charles Maynes, Michael Bowman and Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

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