Trump would need Congress approval to drop sanctions if bill passes

(Tom Brenner/The New York Times)

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(Tom Brenner/The New York Times)

Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman predicted swift passage of a bill to impose new sanctions on Russia, North Korea and Iran while preventing President Donald Trump from scrapping Russian sanctions without congressional approval.

The agreement, reached early Saturday morning between House and Senate negotiators, clears the way for a House floor vote as early as Tuesday. The Trump administration has warned the Russian sanctions would tie its hands in negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But lawmakers from both parties have dismissed the administration’s objections after U.S. intelligence asserting that Russia interfered in the presidential election as a way to damage the candidacy of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

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In addition, lawmakers are furious with North Korea following the death last month of Otto Warmbier of Wyoming, Ohio, after he was held in a North Korean prison. And they are eager to punish North Korea for testing a long-range ballistic missile this month which could reach Hawaii.

Portman said Saturday that Congress “must hold Iran and Russia accountable for their aggressive and destabilizing behavior and I look forward to the House passing” the bill this week.

“The important sanctions and policies included in this legislation will also provide constructive guidance to the administration as it continues to formulate its policies and demonstrate the depth of the support in Congress for a firm and principled approach to Russia, Iran, and North Korea,” Portman said.

In a separate statement, Brown said the bill “sends a clear message to Moscow that the United States will not tolerate Russian attacks on democracy - from interference in our elections to aggression in Ukraine.”

“North Korea must face consequences for its nuclear weapons and missile testing program and its human rights abuses, including the despicable actions that took the life of Otto Warmbier and its continued imprisonment of American citizens,” Brown said.

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Warmbier died last month in Cincinnati just days after he was returned in a coma to his home. Physicians at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said the University of Virginia student had suffered an extensive loss of brain tissue and was unresponsive.

Warmbier had gone to North Korea as a tourist on his way to Hong Kong for a study-abroad program, but he was stopped when he tried to leave the country. After a sham trial, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

By a vote of 98-2, the Senate approved the sanctions on Russia and Iran last month, punishing Iran for testing ballistic missiles. The House in May passed a bill imposing additional restrictions against North Korea by a vote of 419-to-1.

House and Senate negotiators combined the two bills, which will require floor votes by the House and Senate.

The bill would enact into law sanctions imposed by then-President Barack Obama in 2014 after Russian annexed Crimea and sponsored a separatist war in eastern Ukraine. It also would impose sanctions on those believed to have interfered with the election.

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