The US Senate on Thursday approved sweeping sanctions against Russia, forcing President Donald Trump to decide whether to accept a tougher line against Moscow or issue a politically explosive veto amid investigations into ties between his presidential campaign and Russian officials.
The Senate vote followed the passage of a House bill earlier this week to punish Russia, Iran and North Korea for various violations by each of the three US adversaries. In effect, it would sharply limit the president’s ability to suspend or lift sanctions on Russia, and won near unanimous support across the Republican-led Congress.
Donald Trump’s team has argued it needs flexibility to pursue a more collaborative diplomacy with Russia. Photo: AP
Mr Trump’s team has argued it needs flexibility to pursue a more collaborative diplomacy with Russia which, by US intelligence consensus, interfered in last year’s presidential election. But now the president will face a decision he had hoped to avoid as the legislation slowly churned through Congress.
White House aides have acknowledged privately that a veto would be politically awkward – at the least – for Mr Trump to justify during the continuing investigations into whether his campaign colluded with Moscow.
Last week, after House and Senate leaders announced an agreement on sanctions, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the incoming White House press secretary, suggested that Mr Trump would sign the final package. Since then, though, the administration has hedged, saying the president will have to review the measure.
“The administration supports sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea. We continue to support strong sanctions against those three countries,” Ms Sanders said Thursday. “And we’re going to wait and see what that final legislation looks like, and make a decision at that point.”
The sanctions target human rights abusers, suppliers of weapons to the Assad regime in Syria and those undermining cybersecurity, among others. The House passed its version Tuesday, by a vote of 419-3. The Senate last month passed a similar bill, 98-2, that punished only Russia and Iran.
The New York Times