US congress reaches deal on Russia sanctions bill

A key section of the bill mandates a congressional review if Trump attempts to ease or end the sanctions against Moscow.

Democrat Steny Hoyer said lawmakers had settled lingering issues with the bill, which also includes economic penalties against Iran and North Korea [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

US Congressional Republicans and Democrats announced on Saturday they had reached an agreement on a sweeping Russia sanctions package to punish Moscow for meddling in the presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said lawmakers had settled lingering issues with the bill, which also includes stiff economic penalties against Iran and North Korea.

The United States’ sanctions targeting Russia, however, have drawn the most attention due to President Donald Trump’s persistent push for warmer relations with President Vladimir Putin and ongoing investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.

OPINION: Trump and Putin – An awkward first date

Passage of the bill, which could occur before congress breaks for the August recess, puts Capitol Hill on possible collision course with Trump. The White House had objected to a key section of the bill that would mandate a congressional review if Trump attempted to ease or end the sanctions against Moscow.

But if Trump were to veto the bill, he risks sparking an outcry from Republicans and Democrats and having his decision overturned.

The sanctions review was included in the bill because of wariness among lawmakers from both parties over Trump’s affinity for Putin.

According to the bill, Trump is required to send congress a report explaining why he wants to suspend or terminate a particular set of sanctions. Lawmakers would then have 30 days to decide whether to allow the move or reject it.

An ‘essential’ sanctions bill

The precise mechanics of how involved House Democrats would be in the review process had been a key sticking point, but Hoyer said he’s satisfied with the outcome.

“The legislation ensures that both the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions,” Hoyer said.

Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer called the sanctions legislation “strong” and he expected the legislation to be passed promptly.

“Given the many transgressions of Russia, and President Trump’s seeming inability to deal with them, a strong sanctions bill such as the one Democrats and Republicans have just agreed to is essential,” said Schumer.

The House and Senate negotiators addressed concerns voiced by American oil and natural gas companies that sanctions specific to Russia’s energy sector could backfire on them to Moscow’s benefit. The bill raises the threshold for when US firms would be prohibited from being part of energy projects that also included Russian businesses.

The sanctions on North Korea bar ships owned by the North or by countries that refuse to comply with UN resolutions against it from operating in American waters or docking at US ports. Goods produced by North Korea’s forced labour would be prohibited from entering the United States.

The sanctions package imposes mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile programme and anyone who does business with them. The measure would apply “terrorism” sanctions to the country’s Revolutionary Guards and enforce an arms embargo.

READ MORE: Week of protests launched for anti-Trump demonstrators

House Majority Leader Republican Kevin McCarthy posted a legislative business schedule that shows the sanctions bill will be voted on Tuesday. McCarthy had pushed to add the North Korea sanctions to the package. The House had overwhelmingly passed legislation in May to hit Pyongyang with additional economic sanctions, but the senate had yet to take up the bill.

The Senate last month passed sanctions legislation that targeted only Russia and Iran.

Congressional aides said there may be resistance among Senate Republicans to adding the North Korea penalties, but it remained unclear whether those concerns would further stall the legislation. The aides were not authorised to speak publicly and requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

“North Korea, Iran and Russia have in different ways all threatened their neighbours and actively sought to undermine American interests,” McCarthy and Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a joint statement.

“The bill the House will vote on next week will now exclusively focus on these nations and hold them accountable for their dangerous actions.”

Source: News agencies


The al-Aqsa metal detectors aren’t a security measure

Israel has been using the pretext of security to quietly continue the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land.

Palestinians react following tear gas that was shot by Israeli forces after Friday prayer on a street outside Jerusalem''s Old city July 21, 2017 [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
Palestinians react following tear gas that was shot by Israeli forces after Friday prayer on a street outside Jerusalem”s Old city July 21, 2017 [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

by

@dianabuttu

Diana Buttu is a Palestinian lawyer and analyst who served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team.

Yesterday, thousands of Palestinians came to Jerusalem to perform the most simple, most peaceful act: prayer. Palestinians – Muslims and Christians, women and men, young and old – prayed in the streets after refusing to enter through the new metal detectors and barricades erected by Israel in front of the al-Aqsa compound. Israeli forces, armed with live ammunition, stun grenades, sound bombs, water cannon and tear gas, came prepared to kill.

And they did: by the day’s end Israeli forces and armed settlers had killed three young Palestinian men and injured more than 450 others, some of them very seriously. Israeli forces even raided a Palestinian hospital in an attempt to arrest those injured by their weaponry.

Israel claims that the metal detectors are necessary for Israel’s “security” following an incident last week in which two armed Israeli officers were killed. These metal detectors are not about security, but rather about deliberately attempting to bar Palestinians from their places of worship. Contrast, for example, Israel’s recent stance towards the Temple Mount Faithful – a group of Jewish extremists who have openly announced that they seek the destruction of the al-Aqsa compound in order to build a Jewish temple in its place.

Yet, while openly advocating for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the destruction of Muslim holy sites, the Israeli government continues to allow this group to enter the al-Aqsa compound (including with arms) under the guise of “freedom of religion”.

In 1990, this group attempted to lay a cornerstone for a Jewish temple at the compound triggering protests in which some 20 Palestinians died.

The demand for freedom of religion for Palestinians – the ability to worship without the interference of Israel’s armed forces – is conveniently ignored. The metal detectors must be viewed in their proper context: as another of Israel’s settler-colonial acts of erasing us, the indigenous population, erasing our homes, our culture and our religious sites and replacing us with settlers.

For his part, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is happy to see Jerusalem erupt in violence. Facing a corruption investigation for a submarine scandal, Netanyahu is refusing to remove the metal detectors so as to ensure that attention is deflected from this deal and instead focused on violence. You see, in Israel, “security” sells – it ensures votes and ensures that corruption charges are deflected.

To be clear, no Palestinian wants to see their holy sites turned into places of armed conflict. But using the guise of “security”, Israel has ensured that we, Palestinians, live as prisoners in our homeland.

In the name of “security,” Israel expropriates Palestinian land. In the name of “security”, Israel builds Israeli-only settlements on stolen Palestinian land. In the name of “security” Israel demolishes Palestinian homes and schools and in the name of “security” Palestinians are besieged in Gaza, forced to live without electricity, adequate medical supplies or water and even barred from accessing the sea.

And, when Palestinians are gunned down by mass murderers, as they were in the 1990s in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein, in the name of “security”, Palestinians – and not Israelis – are subject to increased security restrictions. In short, Israel seeks to turn Jerusalem into Hebron: blocked off from Palestinians, with convenience for Israeli Jews taking precedence over Palestinian rights. So as Israel continues to gun down Palestinians, who will provide security to Palestinians?

This security will not come from the current unelected Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who spent four days in China as Palestinians were barred from accessing al-Aqsa compound and as Gazans suffered under a siege that he has openly supported. Nor, of course, will it come from a silent international community that only knows how to wring its hands and meekly condemn Israel.

Rather, Palestinians will continue to bravely stand and defend themselves, bowing down only to the God they worship and never to Israeli diktats.

Diana Buttu is a Palestinian lawyer and analyst who served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team from 2000 to 2005.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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