The United States is continuing to tighten economic pressure on its geopolitical rivals, as the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to boost sweeping sanctions against Russia and Iran.
The sanctions legislation passed through the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, 98-2, and was originally written to target Tehran for its sovereign right to develop its ballistic missile program and its alleged “continued support” for groups deemed “terrorist” by Washington.
However, senators agreed to amend the text to include Moscow, which faces continued accusations of meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The plan would limit U.S. President Donald Trump’s ability to ease sanctions on Russia, but it still needs to clear hurdles in the House of Representatives and the White House.
We must take our own side in this fight, not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans,” Senator John McCain said.
The bill would solidify sanctions imposed against Moscow over Crimea’s reunification with Russia following the Washington-backed overthrow of democratically-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, its support for the Syrian government, and would also strengthen restrictions introduced by then-President Barack Obama toward those suspected of being involved in cyber attacks on U.S. targets.
“We have experienced these (sanction) measures for a long time. Around 35 sanction waves advanced to Russia,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told TASS, noting that the measures indicate how Washington’s “sanctions-obsessed” lawmakers “lack creative approach skills needed to solve complex international issues.”
“This is a primitive reflexive return to the same failed methods,” the deputy foreign minister added. “Today’s level of political ‘culture’ in the U.S. is at a low point, and that’s a pity.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed his own reservations about the sanctions package, warning that it could create obstacles in smoothing-out relations with the U.S.’ former Cold War foe.
“I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation,” Tillerson said Wednesday to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Essentially, we would ask for the flexibility to turn the heat up when we need to, but also to ensure that we have the ability to maintain a constructive dialogue.”
Nonetheless, Tillerson has not yet reached out to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for such dialogue, but instead called Wednesday for relying on “elements inside of Iran” to bring about regime change or a “peaceful transition of that government.”
The Iranian top diplomat pledged earlier this week to raise the issue of continued Washington sanctions in Oslo, Norway, to EU foreign ministers as a breach of U.S. obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action intended to relieve sanctions on Tehran in exchange for concessions on the country’s nuclear program.
“Before reverting to unlawful and delusional regime-change policy towards #Iran, U.S. Administration should study and learn from history,” Javad Zarif tweeted Thursday. “For their own sake, U.S. officials should worry more about saving their own regime than changing Iran’s, where 75 percent of people just voted.”