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U.S. Congress Reaches Deal Clearing Way For Russian-Iranian Sanctions Bill

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker

Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress said late on July 26 that they had reached an agreement clearing the way for final action on a bill cementing sanctions against Russia into law and barring President Donald Trump from easily waiving those sanctions.

The bill was passed nearly unanimously in the House on July 25 but encountered resistance in the Senate from legislators who opposed the House's decision to attach sanctions against North Korea to the Senate's original bill, which focused exclusively on penalizing Russia and Iran.

"I am glad to announce that we have reached an agreement that will allow us to send sanctions legislation to the president's desk," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker said after daylong negotiations with House leaders.

Corker's objection to the North Korean sanctions provisions had raised doubts earlier about the bill's fate in the Senate, but by the end of the day he said he would drop his objections and let the bill pass on assurances that the House would fine-tune the Korea provisions later.

The bill is intended to enshrine into law a series of sanctions issued by former President Barack Obama over Russia's alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election last year as well as its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

The bill also includes a provision opposed by the White House that would require congressional review of any decision by Trump to ease or waive the Russian sanctions.

But while the White House sought changes in that provision, it has not said it would veto the bill over it and has expressed overall support for putting strong sanctions on Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

The strong bipartisan support for the legislation in Congress puts pressure on Trump to accept the bill since he could be overridden should he choose to veto it.

Separate Investigations

Trump's presidency has been clouded by allegations that Russia meddled in the election on his behalf.

The Justice Department and Congress are conducting separate investigations into Moscow's alleged interference and whether there was any collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia.

Russian officials have denied any interference and sharply criticized the bill on July 26, saying it marks a "step toward the destruction of prospects for normalization of relations" between Washington and Moscow.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency that the legislation ventures "into uncharted territory both in the political and diplomatic sense."

Besides sealing into law existing sanctions on Russia, the bill adds sanctions against Moscow for its backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's six-year civil war that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives.

The sanctions against Iran would impose mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran's ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure would designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and enforce an arms embargo against Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani on July 26 said the bill violates Tehran's 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and his country would respond if it is enacted.

The European Union said on July 26 that it still had concerns about provisions of the bill that could penalize Western companies that do business with Russian energy firms, despite efforts by House leaders to resolve those issues.

"If our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days," said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. "America first cannot mean that Europe's interests come last."

With reporting by AP, Reuters, Politico, and New York Times