Reluctant president signs off on sanctions

AFP
US President Donald Trump reluctantly signed off on new sanctions against Russia yesterday, bowing to domestic pressure and putting efforts to improve ties with the Kremlin on ice.
AFP

US President Donald Trump reluctantly signed off on new sanctions against Russia yesterday, bowing to domestic pressure and putting efforts to improve ties with the Kremlin on ice.

Trump signed the legislation behind closed doors and away from the cameras, after failed efforts to scupper or water down the bill.

Trump’s reluctance was on full display in an angry signing statement, in which he called the legislation “significantly flawed.”

“In its haste to pass this legislation, the Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions,” he said, including curbs on the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.

The legislation — which also includes measures against North Korea and Iran — targets the Russian energy sector, giving Washington the ability to sanction companies involved in developing Russian pipelines, and placing curbs on some Russian weapons exporters.

It also notably constrains Trump’s ability to waive the penalties, a statement of mistrust from the Republican-controlled Congress which remains unsettled by Trump’s warm words for President Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions seek to penalize the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election — which Trump won — and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Trump said he would “honor” some of the bill’s provisions, but stopped short of saying it would be fully implemented.

The White House said only that Trump would give Congress’s “preferences” mere “careful and respectful consideration.”

Trump received the legislation at 1:53pm on Friday but waited until yesterday to sign it.

The nearly weeklong delay had raised speculation that Trump might veto or try to somehow shelve the sanctions, which were approved in a 98-2 Senate vote.

By signing it, he avoided the humiliating prospect of Congress overriding his veto.

Expecting the signature, Moscow preemptively ordered Washington to reduce its diplomatic presence in Russia to 455 persons before September 1 — bringing it in line with the size of Russia’s mission in the US.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over the weekend, but warned US-Russia ties could get worse.

He said the Congress decision to pass the sanctions bill had made attempts to thaw ties “more difficult.”

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