House Passes Russia-Iran-North Korea Sanctions Bill in 419-3 Vote; Will Trump Sign It?

By Patrick Goodenough | July 25, 2017 | 4:14 AM EDT

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017. (Screengrab: YouTube)

(Update: The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the sanctions legislation in a 419-3 vote. The “no” votes came from Republican Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and John Duncan of Tennessee.)

(CNSNews.com) – Ahead of a vote in the House Tuesday on new sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, two of the targeted countries warned against the move and some leading Russian trading partners in Europe are also unhappy.

The White House, meanwhile, is withholding comment on whether President Trump will support it.

The bipartisan Countering Adversarial Nations Through Sanctions Act is the product of an agreement between the two chambers, amalgamating elements of separate bills targeting North Korea (passed by the House in a 419-1 vote last May) and Iran and Russia (passed by the Senate in a 98-2 vote in June.)

The result encompasses some of the most sweeping punitive measures imposed in years, directed against:

--Key sectors of the Russian economy including arms sales and energy exports;

--Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and supporters of its ballistic missile programs; and

--The North Korean regime’s shipping industry and access to hard cash, precious metals and other stores of value.

Stated reasons for the measures include: Russian human rights abuses, intervention in Ukraine, cyberattacks and U.S. election meddling, and support for the Assad regime; Iranian missile development and support for terrorism; and Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and missile provocations and North Korean slave labor.

During the negotiations, provisions of the original Senate bill viewed as unintentionally harmful to harm U.S. manufacturers and job creators and beneficial to Russian energy interests – essentially they would bar a U.S. company from operating anywhere a Russian company may also be functioning – were reworked.

Most significantly, the legislation includes the requirement of a congressional review of any proposal by Trump to ease Russian sanctions on his own.

Should the president wish to do so, he will have to supply Congress with an explanatory report, which among other things must indicate whether or not the step is “intended to significantly alter United States foreign policy with regard to the Russian Federation.”

Congress will then have 30 days to review the plan and decide whether to support it with a “joint resolution of approval” – or reject it with a “joint resolution of disapproval.”

It is this provision of the bill that has drawn the most resistance from the White House.

On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders demurred when asked whether Trump would sign the bill.

Sanders said the president was supportive of sanctions against the three regimes and “has no intention of getting rid of them, but he wants to make sure we get the best deal for the American people possible.”

“Congress does not have the best record on that,” she continued, citing NAFTA and the Iran nuclear deal.

Sanders said Trump would study the legislation “and see what the final product looks like.”

Asked whether the bill as it now stands would win Trump’s support, she said he was “looking over where it stands exactly at this point, and we’ll keep you guys posted on the decision.”

A day earlier the White House position seemed hazier:  Sanders, on one network’s Sunday show, said “we support where the legislation is now” but incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci, appearing on another network around the same time, said he believed Trump would make a decision “shortly.”

Russia and Iran both warned the U.S. Monday against enacting the sanctions, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling them “counter-productive and harmful to the interests of both countries” and Tehran’s foreign ministry’s saying sanctions against the IRGC in particular would be a “strategic mistake.”

Peskov said the Kremlin would wait and see whether Trump signs the legislation, until which time talking about Moscow’s response to it would be premature.

Energy row

Since Russia intervened in Ukraine in support of separatists in the east and annexed Crimea in 2014, the U.S. and European Union have generally worked together, imposing punitive measures against Russia including asset freezes and travel bans.

These new proposed sanctions, however, have set off alarm bells in some parts of the E.U., largely because they threaten European companies involved in a the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, taking Russian gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

The legislation declares it U.S. policy to “continue to oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline” and to “prioritize the export of United States energy resources in order to create American jobs, help United States allies and partners, and strengthen United States foreign policy.”

“Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not the United States,” the German and Austrian governments said in a joint statement last month, adding that it was up to Europeans to decide who supplies them with energy.

“Political sanctions should not be associated with economic interests,” they said.

“Threatening to punish companies in Germany, Austria and other European countries in the U.S. market by participating in or financing natural gas projects such as Nord Stream II with Russia is bringing a completely new and very negative quality to European-American relations.”

E.U. leaders in Brussels have also voiced concern and are reportedly mulling retaliatory steps.

In fact Nord Stream 2 is deeply controversial within the E.U., with eastern European countries – once under Moscow’s domination and leery of Russia – opposing it on the grounds it threatens energy security in the region.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow