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Leading Republican Says Russia Sanctions Bill Not Finalized

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (file photo)
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (file photo)

A leading Republican senator says a bill toughening sanctions on Russia has not been finalized, despite earlier announcements of a bipartisan agreement.

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters on July 24 that "we still have a little work to do," adding that he expected differences over details in the legislation to be settled quickly.

Corker's comments came just minutes after the White House said President Donald Trump would examine the bill, which also includes new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, to determine if it was the "best deal" for the American people.

"He's going to study that legislation and see what the final product looks like," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on July 24 during a briefing on Air Force One.

The comments by the White House and Corker appear to back off earlier announcements from the administration and Congress over the status of the legislation.

On July 22, Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington said they had reached agreement on the legislation that would slap the new sanctions on Moscow and limit the president’s ability to ease or lift them by himself.

A day later, the White House indicated it was ready to accept the legislation, which the administration had originally opposed.

"We support where the legislation is now and will continue working with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved," Sanders told ABC television on July 23.

Trump has repeatedly said he wants to improve ties with Moscow, triggering bipartisan concern in Congress that he could lift or ease sanctions punishing Russia for its 2014 seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

So far, the U.S. administration has shown no indication it intends to lift Ukraine-related sanctions targeting Russia, which denies providing weapons and personnel to separatists in eastern Ukraine despite evidence of such support.

The bill is set to be considered in the House of Representatives as early as July 25.

The Senate will also have to vote on the new bill, which would require Trump to send a report to Congress outlining why the administration wants to suspend or terminate any sanctions. Lawmakers would then have one month to decide whether to allow such a move.

A refusal by Trump to sign the bill would likely trigger political backlash in Washington given the ongoing FBI and congressional investigations into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials.

Objections to the legislation has come from Russia as well as from Washington’s European Union allies, who have been highlighting the effect it might have on joint energy projects.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia is "working with our European partners on implementing a number of large-scale projects."

"It goes without saying that we and our European partners attach great importance to finishing these projects and we will work towards this," Peskov said in response to a question about the potential effect on projects such as Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that is to carry Russian gas across the Baltic Sea to Europe.

"That is why discussions about 'sanctions themes' -- which could potentially obstruct these projects -- are a cause of concern for us."

In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the EU is "activating all diplomatic channels to address these concerns [about] the U.S. measures with our U.S. counterparts."

"For us, G7 unity regarding sanctions is of key importance, respect of the implementation of the Minsk agreement," he said, referring to the Western-backed 2015 agreement on a cease-fire and steps to end the conflict between Russia-backed separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine.

With reporting by RFE/RL Correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, Reuters, and TASS
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