US tightening sanctions on Russia, Iran, North Korea

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the Bill is one of the most expansive sanctions packages in history and tightens the screws on America's most dangerous adversaries.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the Bill is one of the most expansive sanctions packages in history and tightens the screws on America's most dangerous adversaries.

The US is significantly strengthening sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, including targeting third countries seen as enabling the Pyongyang regime in particular.

The legislation passed by the House of Representatives by 419-3 on Tuesday, also ensures it would need Congressional approval to lift sanctions - a move analysts see as aimed at curtailing President Donald Trump's power to lift sanctions on Russia.

A similar Bill was earlier approved in the Senate, but because of new elements the House version must go back to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved before the legislature breaks for summer.

"The Bill we just passed with overwhelming bipartisan support is one of the most expansive sanctions packages in history," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. "It tightens the screws on our most dangerous adversaries in order to keep Americans safe."

However, it would have to be signed off by President Trump, who could veto it if he chooses. On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Heather Nauert told reporters the legislation was still in draft form, pending approval by the Senate.

She said: "Secretary (of State Rex Tillerson) has been firm about sanctions on Russia. We've talked a lot about the issues facing Ukraine, we expect and fully intend sanctions to remain in place until Russia stops the provocative actions that caused sanctions to be placed in the first place."

The sanctions against Russia shorten the duration of loans to Russian banks as well as oil and gas companies, freeze assets of state- owned Russian mining and railway companies, and penalise firms that contribute to Russian energy development.

In the case of Iran, the sanctions include mandatory penalties on anyone involved, or do business with those involved in, Teheran's ballistic missile programme.

Regarding North Korea, the legislation aims to squeeze its hard currency pipelines, essentially tightening enforcement of existing UN-mandated sanctions already in place, and forcing countries to choose between doing business with the US or North Korea.

Ships flagged by countries that reflag North Korean ships in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions, could be denied access to US waters. Vessels that have visited North Korea recently for anything other than strictly humanitarian purposes, could be banned. Goods made with any involvement of North Korean labour, are subject to sanctions, and business owners may be charged under human trafficking laws and have assets frozen.

Mr Joshua Stanton, a Washington-based attorney and expert on sanctions on North Korea, wrote: "The shipping sanctions in this Bill could be extraordinarily powerful. They might be the shipping equivalent of section 311 of the Patriot Act for those who reflag North Korea's smuggling fleet." That section targets money laundering and terrorist financing.

However, yesterday, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said his panel was likely to strip out language imposing sanctions against North Korea from legislation that contains sanctions against Russia and Iran.

Republican Senator Bob Corker told the Washington Post that doing so would ensure the measure could pass, Reuters reported. Mr Corker said the Bill was likely to become law "very, very soon".

Meanwhile, Russia has threatened to retaliate against new sanctions passed by the US, saying they made it all but impossible to achieve the Trump administration's goal of improved relations, Bloomberg reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2017, with the headline 'US tightening sanctions on Russia, Iran, North Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe