Washington, 17 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved an amendment that would cut off financial assistance to Russia if a restrictive religious bill is signed into law by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Ninety-five senators out of 100 voted for the amendment to the U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations bill for fiscal 1998.
Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) said he proposed the amendment because he believes the Russian bill "severely" discriminates against religious minorities in Russia.
Smith said the amendment would cut off some $200 million in American aid to Russia, adding that it would be the "clearest and strongest message" the U.S. could send to Russia in objecting to the bill.
Smith's amendment requires the U.S. president to certify annually to the U.S. Congress that Russia has not enacted any legislation discriminating against religious minorities in order to release financial assistance.
The amendment also states that Russia cannot violate international human rights agreements to which it is a signatory.
The bill is expected to be approved by the Senate later tonight. It will then go to the House of Representatives.