WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the United States is considering additional sanctions against Russian individuals amid bipartisan criticism for the administration’s delay in enforcing a law strengthening restrictions imposed on Moscow.
"We've taken steps that have already prevented a number of Russian military sales as a result of the legislation,” Tillerson told CBS television's 60 Minutes program in a wide-ranging interview broadcast on February 18.
“And we are evaluating additional individuals for possible sanctioning,” he added.
Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which cemented existing sanctions and required the U.S. administration to effectively get permission from Congress to lift them.
The bill was reluctantly signed into law by President Donald Trump, who had campaigned on establishing warmer ties with Moscow, but the measures were not enacted by a October 1 deadline.
On February 14, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Senate Finance Committee during a hearing that he would soon issue new sanctions against wealthy Russians in retaliation for Moscow's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which the Kremlin has denied.
"We are actively working on those sanctions," Mnuchin said. "You should expect them in the near future."
In his interview, Tillerson also spoke on allegations concerning the use of chemical weapons by the Russia-supported Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad against U.S.-backed rebels in the country's nearly seven-year civil war.
In response to interviewer Margaret Brennan’s remarks that "there were six chlorine gas attacks in the past 30 days," Tillerson said:
"That's correct. And we have called them out for the fact that Russia has special responsibilities, in our view, because of commitments they made, to destroy chemical weapons and ensure they knew that there were none."
"I think the only difference [from the previous U.S. administration] is the consequences for it. And President Trump has already demonstrated there will be consequences."
When asked if "military action" is still possible for chlorine gas attacks, Tillerson said that "we are serious about our demands that chemical weapons not become regularized or normalized as a weapon in any conflict."
Assad and Russia have denied that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against rebels, despite conclusions by experts that the regime did carry out such attacks.