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US Senate passes sanctions bill against Russia, Iran, N Korea

By Lalit K Jha
July 28, 2017 10:58 IST
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The United States Senate has passed a bill that imposes tough and additional sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Passed by the House of Representatives early this week, the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act was passed by the Senate 98-2 votes.

The bill now heads to the White House for President Donald Trump's approval.

"This legislation finally holds Russia accountable for its brazen attack on America's 2016 presidential election by imposing new sanctions, strengthening existing sanctions, and requiring congressional oversight of any attempt to ease sanctions on Russia," said Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"The Senate's overwhelming vote today sends an important message that America will not tolerate attacks on our democracy or national security interests, and that we will respond to such attacks with strength, resolve, common purpose, and action," McCain said.

Earlier in the day, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the Trump Administration supports strong sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea.

"The President and the administration support sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea. We continue to support strong sanctions against those three countries, and we're going to wait and see what that final legislation looks like and make a decision at that point," she told reporters.

"The Congress of the United States has sent a clear message tonight to the governments of the Russian Federation, Iran and North Korea -- there will be consequences for their dangerous, destabilising activities against our country, our allies, our interests and our values," said Senator Ben Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"President Trump must sign this legislation without delay. Any equivocation or political games from the Administration after today will be completely unacceptable in the face of such overwhelming bipartisan resolve in the Senate and House," Cardin said.

The legislation, McCain said would impose mandatory sanctions on transactions with the Russian defence or intelligence sectors, including the FSB and the GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye), the Russian military intelligence agency that was primarily responsible for Russia's attack on US election.

It would impose mandatory visa bans and asset freezes on any individual that undermines the cybersecurity of public or private infrastructure and democratic institutions.

"The legislation would codify existing sanctions on Russia by placing into law six executive orders signed by President Obama in response to both Russian interference in the 2016 election and its illegal actions in Ukraine. And it would take new steps to tighten those sanctions," McCain said on the Senate floor.

"The legislation would target the Russian energy sector, which is controlled by Vladimir Putin's cronies, with sanctions on investments in Russian petroleum and natural gas development as well as Russian energy pipelines," he added.

McCain said that the US needs to send a strong message to Vladimir Putin and any other aggressor that we will not tolerate attacks on its democracy.

"We must take our own side in this fight--not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans. It's time to respond to Russia's attack on American democracy with strength, with resolve, with common purpose, and with action," he said.

With near unanimous support in both chambers of Congress, this legislation sends a strong signal to Iran, Russia and North Korea that US will stand firm and united in the face of their destabilising behaviour, said Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"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.

US House approves spending bill to fund Trump's border wall

The US House of Representatives has approved a federal spending bill which includes funds for a controversial wall to be build along the border with Mexico, a top priority project of President Donald Trump.

The $827 billion package passed by the House through 235-192 votes has a provision of $1.6 billion for the border build, which Trump believes is crucial to prevent illegal immigration and smuggling of drugs inside the United States.

However, the bill needs to be passed by the Senate -- where the opposition Democrats are in a large strength -- before it can be signed into law by the US President.

The Democratic leadership has been opposing tooth and nail such a move of the Trump Administration.

"It would squander billions of taxpayer dollars on President Trump's immoral, ineffective and expensive border wall. The President said during the campaign, he said, 'I promised a wall. 'No, you promised a wall that Mexico would pay for," said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, on the floor of the House.

"He (Trump) said it would cost $4 billion to $6 billion. The fact is it could cost as much as $30 or $40 billion. And he wants a down payment for that wall in this bill. One poison pill," she said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley described the move to build the border wall as immoral and ineffective.

"A wall along the US-Mexican border will not make the United States safer nor more secure," he said.

"It is a massive waste of taxpayer money and will exacerbate problems with our already broken immigration system. There is no one more dedicated to our national security or ensuring that the men and women serving in uniform have the resources they need to keep our country safe, but this bill doesn't accomplish that and I cannot support it," Crowley said.

The Democratic National Committee Chair Tom in a statement alleged that Trump's border wall is a massive waste of taxpayer money that will not make US safer.

"Like many of the president's policies, this initiative is rooted in nothing more than prejudice and fear mongering.

"And as with so many of his campaign pledges, he has broken his promise to Americans that they wouldn't pay a dime for this wall,” he said.

The Trump Administration, however, asserted that the country needed border wall.

"We need the border wall. The border wall is one more tool in the toolbox that might prevent some of the things from happening," Tom Homan, the Acting Director of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told reporters at a White House news conference.

"That is why what President Trump is asking us to do, that is why what he's proposing for border security makes sense for the law enforcement community. We need this help. We need these executive orders to make sense of what we do every day," Homan said.

Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the wall would further Trump's discriminatory anti-immigrant agenda and worsen Customs and Border Protection abuses in the 100-mile border zone and for immigrants seeking safety and a better life.

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Lalit K Jha
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