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U.S. House Speaker Says Procedural Issue Delaying Move On Russia-Iran Sanctions


U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (file photo)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan says he wants to move as quickly as possible on a package of tough new sanctions against Russia and Iran but that procedural and policy issues are delaying that action.

Ryan, a Republican, on July 12 said that "right now, we have a procedural issue," adding that his party was working with Democrats to send the bill back to the Senate to address those matters.

"There are some policy issues with respect to making sure that we don't actually inadvertently help Russian oligarchs and oil firms," he told reporters.

The White House opposes the bill, saying it ties President Donald Trump's hands in dealing with Russia in regard to future policy on sanctions and his ability to make adjustments.

The Senate bill couples Russia sanctions with new Iran sanctions and its delay would mean that the measures against Iranian Islamic Republic individuals and organizations could also be delayed.

The bill includes new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and other activities not related to the international nuclear agreement reached with the United States and other world powers.

'New Urgency'

Earlier in the day, Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and other lawmakers said the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump's son and a Russian attorney, and the failure to disclose it, added new urgency to the drive to impose new sanctions on Russia.

"What happened with Donald Trump Jr. just underscores how Russia was operating," Cardin said, referring to the disclosure that the president's son met in June 2016 with someone identified as allegedly working with the Russian government having derogatory information on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Senate on June 15 voted 98-2 to impose the tough new sanctions on Russia for allegedly meddling in the U.S. election and other matters, but it has been stalled in the House. Sanctions on Iran were also included in the bill.

Constitutional Requirement

On June 23, the Senate bill encountered a roadblock in the House when it was discovered that it violated a requirement in the Constitution that any bill raising government revenue must originate in the House.

Congressional aides said sanctions or fines against other countries like those in the bill could be interpreted as affecting U.S. government revenue.

Ryan at the time said that procedural issue must be resolved before the House can take action on the bill. It was not immediately clear if the same issue was involved in the delay Ryan spoke about on July 12.

On July 10, a top White House official said the administration was seeking to change the bill so that it did not constrain the president's authority to impose or waive sanctions in the future.

'Tying Trump's Hands'

Marc Short, the White House legislative director, told reporters that the administration backs the new sanctions on Russia and Iran, but it objects to a provision giving Congress a much greater say on sanctions.

That provision would require a congressional review if President Donald Trump attempts to ease or end the bill's penalties against Moscow.

The Axios news website reported that the White House is concerned that the bill would "tie Trump's hands" in negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"This bill is so poorly written that neither Republican nor Democratic administrations would be comfortable with the current draft because it greatly hampers the executive branch's diplomatic efforts," Short told Axios.

The objection was first raised by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said in testimony last month that Trump needs to retain "the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation" with Russia.

The AP news agency AP reported that officials from the Treasury and State departments met with House congressional staff to voice their concerns over the congressional review provision, which they said infringes on the president's executive authority.

But weakening that provision likely would provoke resistance from congressional Democrats and some Republicans.

With reporting by AP, Axios, The Hill, Reuters, and Washington Examiner
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