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Trump intends to sign Russia sanctions bill: White House

Washington: US President Donald Trump plans to sign legislation slapping punitive sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea that the Congress approved this week, the White House has said.

The legislation bars Trump from easing or waiving the penalties on Russia unless Congress agrees.

In its statement, the White House said Trump “negotiated regarding critical elements” of early drafts of the bill and approved the final draft “based on its responsiveness to his negotiations.”

The Senate passed the bill, 98-2, two days after the House of Representatives pushed the measure through by an overwhelming margin, 419-3. Both were veto-proof numbers.

“President Donald J Trump read early drafts of the bill and negotiated regarding critical elements of it,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a late-night statement.

“He has now reviewed the final version and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign it,” Sander said without giving a time frame when it would be signed into law.

The new sanctions come as the White House grapples with several ongoing probes into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, which the President has blasted as unnecessary.

The legislation, could put strain on Trump’s ability to improve ties with Russia, which he has vocally pursued, but has been restrained by the allegations that his associates had contacts with Russian officials during the election campaign.

Trump has denied any collusion between his associates and Moscow and termed the Russian investigation “a witch hunt”.

Other than Russia, the legislation also seeks to make Iran pay for its “continued support of terrorism”, and includes provisions to curb North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Before President Barack Obama left office, he ordered the seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds and expelled 35 of its diplomats in response to alleged election interference, a claim that Moscow has consistently denied.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hoped that there will be no need for these sanctions on Russia.

“The near unanimous votes for the sanctions legislation in Congress represent the strong will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States,” he said.

“We hope that there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues and these sanctions will no longer be necessary,” Tillerson said in a statement.

“We will work closely with our friends and Allies to ensure our messages to Russia, Iran, and North Korea are clearly understood,” he said.

PTI