(CNSNews.com) – President Trump on Wednesday signed the most consequential foreign policy legislation of his administration to date – a bill imposing sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea – but made clear he was doing so reluctantly.
Moscow and Tehran reacted sharply to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which among other things restricts the president’s freedom to lift sanctions against Russia on his own.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the U.S. establishment had “outwitted” Trump and the U.S. has declared “a fully-fledged economic war” on Russia, while a senior Iranian official said the sanctions were designed to destroy the nuclear agreement it negotiated with the U.S. and other world powers..
Trump said he was signing the legislation “for the sake of national unity” but that, despite improvements made during deliberations with Congress, “it remains significantly flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate.”
“Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking,” he said. “By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together.”
“The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President,” Trump said. “This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.”
He ended the statement on a personal note, comparing his ability to secure international agreements with that of Congress – which he has long disparaged.
“I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected,” Trump said. “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”
‘They will ultimately aim to remove him from power’
The legislation, which the House and Senate passed last week by 419-3 and 98-2 votes respectively, seeks to punish the three regimes for a range of belligerent policies and actions.
They include Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. election and military actions in Ukraine and Syria; Iranian missile development and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ support for terrorism; and North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations.
In early reaction from Moscow, Medvedev said in a Facebook post that the U.S. through the sanctions has declared “a fully-fledged economic war,” but said Russia “will cope.”
“The U.S. establishment fully outwitted Trump; the president is not happy about the new sanctions, yet he could not but sign the bill. The issue of new sanctions came about, primarily, as another way to knock Trump down a peg,” he wrote.
“New steps are to come, and they will ultimately aim to remove him from power.”
Medvedev also predicted that “lengthy arguments in international bodies and courts are ahead, as well as rising international tensions and refusal to settle major international issues.”
In further response, also posted on Facebook, the head of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee – roughly the equivalent of the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – said Trump had “surrendered” to congressional pressure.
Konstantin Kosachyov wrote that the new law “does not absolutely solve any problems, but provokes new ones, and among them is the further degradation of Russian-American relations.”
Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, said the main goal of the sanctions targeting his country was to do away with the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Araghchi said the signing following strong support in Congress showed that the U.S. believes the JCPOA has empowered Iran in the region.
“Based on this perspective, the general belief in Washington is that this situation must be reversed and Iran must be put under pressure.”
Trump, a harsh critic of the deal negotiated by his predecessor, indicated last week that he believes Iran has been in violation of the JCPOA, and forecast that the next time he reports to Congress on the matter, he expects he will declare it to be non-compliant.
‘Clearly unconstitutional provisions’
In a separate statement Wednesday Trump outlined some of the provisions of the legislation which he views as problematic.
The bill requires a 30-day congressional review of any plan by president to ease Russian sanctions – a review that could end with a vote on a joint resolution of approval or disapproval. Trump raised concern about the review period.
He also cited as examples of “clearly unconstitutional provisions” sections that state the United States does and will not recognize territorial changes effected by force, including Moscow-backed separatist regions in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.
Trump said although he shared the policy views of those sections, they “purport to displace the president’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments, including their territorial bounds.”
Trump said that was in conflict with a 2015 Supreme Court decision that held that the president has exclusive power of recognition. (The case in point, a 6-3 decision, meant the executive branch may continue refusing to include the word “Israel” on the passports of American citizens born in Jerusalem.)
Trump also pointed to other provisions, relating to energy policy and assistance in Europe, which direct the secretary of state “to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives, in contravention of the President’s exclusive constitutional authority to determine the time, scope, and objectives of international negotiations.”