WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers approved a measure Tuesday that would make it more difficult for U.S. President Donald Trump to remove sanctions against Russia.
The lower House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the measure 419-3, slapping new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea.
“These three regimes, in different parts of the world, are threatening vital US interests and destabilizing their neighbors. It is well past time that we forcefully respond,” Congressman Ed Royce, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said.
A similar measure passed the upper Senate last month, penalizing Russia over Ukraine and Syria, as well as Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.
Trump had signaled a willingness to cooperate with Russia and has questioned whether Moscow interfered in U.S. presidential elections, prompting concern among lawmakers that he could unilaterally ease sanctions.
The lawmakers tied the new sanctions to separate measures targeting Iran and North Korea in a bid to make it more difficult for Trump to veto the measure and potentially ease sanctions on Russia.
The bill prohibits the president from easing the Russian sanctions without Congress’ approval. Royce defended the oversight the bill gives Congress, calling it “necessary and appropriate.”
The sanctions on North Korea target its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs as well as use of slave labor and Iran is targeted for its terrorist activities, human rights abuses and ballistic missile programs.
The Defense Intelligence Agency predicted that North Korea would be able to develop a reliable, nuclear-capable ballistic missile as soon as next year, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing a confidential assessment.
The sanctions measure differs slightly between the House and the Senate versions and the two chambers must now agree on a final version to send to Trump.
The White House has indicated Trump would sign the measure, despite concerns that it ties his hands.
The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that the threat of more sanctions damages both Russian and U.S. interests.
The speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, expressed concern about the impact on European cooperation with Russia’s energy sector.
“Sanctions can bring harm to European companies and European business as a whole. This is an attempt to push Russia out of the European energy market. This is an encroachment on the interests of European states. I hope that the EU will defend its position,” Matviyenko said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.
European officials had also expressed concern about the Russian measures for their potential impact on energy projects.
“We are following the draft U.S. bill on Russia sanctions with some concern,” a spokesman said, adding that the matter was being raised by the bloc “via all diplomatic channels with the U.S. and its counterparts.”
Global energy giants such as Shell, British Petroleum and Italy’s ENI could be affected by fresh U.S. sanctions against Russia.