The Trump administration pushed back on a bipartisan criticism that it has not done enough to deter Moscow’s increasingly aggressive behavior, announcing it is reading a second “more severe” round of sanctions on Russia for the U.K. nerve-agent attack, a leading State Department official told Congress.
“We plan to impose a very severe second round of sanctions,” Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh told Thursday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on congressionally authorized sanctions.
Ms. Singh said the penalties soon to be levied in retaliation for the poisoning of a Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury earlier this year include “a laundry list of items that will penalize the Russian government” ranging from banking sanctions to prohibitions on procurement of defense articles.
She added that the White House has imposed sanctions that have cost the Kremlin “tens of billions of dollars.”
On Wednesday, President Trump ratcheted up the pressure even further, signing an order creating a mechanism that automatically slaps sanctions on foreign countries or individuals caught interfering in U.S. elections amid heightened alerts from the U.S. intelligence community about potential cyberattacks on the midterm elections Nov. 6.
But committee chairman, Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican, added to the bipartisan argument that Mr. Trump has not punished the Kremlin enough for multiple aggressions including meddling in U.S. elections, involvement in the civil war in Syria and continued hostility in Ukraine.
While he applauded the White House for sanctioning more than 200 Russian individuals and entities under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) of 2017, and other existing laws, Mr Royce was firm in his criticism that Russia needed to be hit harder with sanctions.
“We cannot expect [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and his corrupt associates to change their behavior in Syria, Ukraine or anywhere else until we prove we will hold them to account,” he said, adding that a “wider net” needed to be cast to trigger certain underused CAATSA provisions.
On Syria, Mr. Royce said more needed to be done on Iran, including stopping Russian firms assisting Iran’s Mahan Air, which U.S. intelligence sources have said ferries weapons, fighters and money to Syria.
Assistant Treasury Secretary Marshall Billingslea, who also testified before the committee, countered that current U.S. policy on Iran was working and that pressure would increase on Tehran as Washington reimposes even tighter sanctions in the wake of the administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Mr. Royce also expressed concern that Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy on North Korea to end it’s nuclear program was ineffective because the nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un, appeared “to be using talks, as he has time and again, to probe for weaknesses and buy time”.
Mr. Billingslea countered that the administration would “continue this economic pressure campaign until denuclearization is achieved” and noted that new North Korean sanctions had been unveiled Thursday morning.
Those penalties, announced by Treasury Department officials, sanction two North Korean-controlled information technology companies based in China and Russia — China Silver Star, its North Korean CEO Jong Song Hwa, and its Russia-based sister company.
In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said the sanctions were aimed at stopping the flow of illicit revenue to North Korea from overseas IT workers hiding behind front companies and aliases. Treasury officials added that China Silver Star is associated with the Munitions Industry Department of North Korea’s ruling party, which oversees the nation’s ballistic missile programs.
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