WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Thursday the panel could take up a bill as soon as this summer to impose new sanctions on Russia over its alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Senator Bob Corker said the panel could move forward on sanctions after hearing from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Some members of the committee, particularly Democrats, had wanted to act more quickly on sanctions over Russian activities that U.S. intelligence agencies concluded were intended to help get Republican Donald Trump elected.
Corker said he expects Tillerson to report to the committee within weeks about the Trump administration’s policy toward Russia and the situation in Syria.
Corker said he would be willing to consider a sanctions bill soon after that if, as he expected, Tillerson does not demonstrate to the panel that there has been significant change by Russia in Syria, where Moscow has been supporting President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s six-year-old civil war.
“I’ve committed to mark up Russia sanctions legislation in the event, the probable event, that the secretary of state cannot show us that there’s a change of trajectory,” Corker said at a committee business meeting. A mark up is a session in which a committee debates legislation and possible amendments.
Later in the meeting, the panel overwhelmingly passed legislation to condemn Russian activities including its effort to influence other countries’ elections, aggression in Ukraine and support for Assad. That measure did not include sanctions.
Corker and other senators had suggested it would be prudent to wait on sanctions at a delicate time in dealings with Moscow, especially over Syria. Democrats were not pleased at the delay, but said they were willing to wait to hear from the Trump administration.
“I do look forward to Mr. Tillerson explaining to us the administration’s Russian policy and what he has seen its impact to be,” said Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s senior Democrat.
If the panel eventually approves sanctions legislation, it would require passage in the full Senate and the House of Representatives before it could go to Trump to sign into law.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that Moscow tried to tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor, including by hacking into the emails of senior Democrats. Russia has denied the allegation. Trump has denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow, but Federal Bureau of Investigation and congressional probes into the matter have dogged the early months of his presidency.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said it gives many committee members “great pause” that the Trump administration has not acted against Russia for its efforts to influence the election.
The United States, under Democratic former President Barack Obama, imposed sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine and in December imposed fresh sanctions and ordered the expulsion of Russian suspected spies over the election meddling.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Will Dunham