WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump has signed into law new legislation imposing further sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea but called the bill “significantly flawed” and signaled that he might not fully implement the sanctions.
The legislation was passed by both houses of Congress last month, with sizable majorities that ensured lawmakers could override any potential veto by Trump.
With strong bipartisan support, the measure amounted to a muscular assertion of Congress’s foreign policy powers and a rebuke of Trump’s repeated calls for a more conciliatory approach toward Moscow, in particular.
In a statement accompanying his signature of the legislation on August 2, Trump said it was “significantly flawed” and would hinder his administration’s ability to negotiate with foreign adversaries.
“My administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations,” he said in a statement released by the White House.
“My administration particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our significant work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends, and our allies,” he said.
And in a second statement also released by the White House, Trump explained further his reasoning behind signing the bill, saying he was doing it "for the sake of national unity."
"It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary," he said.
"I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress," Trump said.
The law cements into place an array of sanctions imposed on Russia by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, and its support for separatists fighting Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine.
Among other things, the measure targets Russian energy firms with new financial sanctions, something that several U.S. allies in Europe had spoken out strongly against. Several German companies in particular have said they could be penalized for working on a pipeline being built under the Baltic Sea to bring Russian gas directly to Germany.
U.S. lawmakers modified the bill after initial complaints by European leaders, which appeared to mollify Brussels.
Still, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned on August 2 after the legislation was signed that European energy companies could be harmed, particularly those working on Russian natural-gas pipeline systems that transit Ukraine to reach EU member states.
“If the U.S. sanctions specifically disadvantage EU companies trading with Russia in the energy sector, the EU is prepared to take appropriate steps in response within days,” Juncker said in a statement.
Germany’s economics minister earlier had urged the European Union to fight back against the sanctions.
In Moscow, Russian officials had repeatedly warned against enacting the new measures. On July 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered that Washington must cut its staff at its U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia by 755 personnel.
Speaking shortly after Trump signed the bill, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said additional retaliatory measures from Moscow would not be taken immediately.
"This de facto changes nothing. There's nothing new," he was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying. "We've already taken retaliatory measures."
The Russian response escalated tensions in relations that already have been damaged by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its role in the war in Syria, and its alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said on August 2 that the new U.S. sanctions are shortsighted and risk harming global stability.
It said attempts to pressure Russia would not make the Kremlin change its course and said Moscow retains the right to impose new countermeasures in response to the U.S. sanctions.
In Kyiv, Ukraine’s president hailed the measure, and he singled out the undersea Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which he called a “politically motivated project.”
The sanctions "will be effective in [achieving] the full liberation of Ukrainian land,” Petro Poroshenko wrote in a comment on his Facebook page. “This is yet another confirmation of the strategic direction in relations being taken by Ukraine and the United States.”
The new law also imposes tough new sanctions on Iran and North Korea over their missile programs, as well as for human rights abuses by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, one of Iran’s most powerful military and security organizations.
Iran on August 1 formally complained to the United Nations about the legislation, accusing the United States of violating its commitments under a nuclear agreement reached with six world powers
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP