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U.S. Treasury head says new Russia sanctions expected within weeks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Friday the Trump administration is working on new sanctions against Russia for a range of activities, including meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and he expects to brief the media on the actions within the next several weeks.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the press room at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“We are working on Russia sanctions. I can assure you that is in the process. I will be back here within the next several weeks to talk about that,” Mnuchin told reporters at the close of a White House briefing to discuss sanctions on North Korea.

Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress nearly unanimously passed a new sanctions bill against Russia last summer for meddling in the U.S. presidential race, a charge Moscow denies.

When the law went into effect earlier this year with no announcement of new sanctions, President Donald Trump was roundly criticized for not punishing Moscow and was accused of being soft on his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Administration officials have said the sanctions measure, which targets those doing business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, went into force on Jan. 29. Given long time frames involving major defense deals, they have said it was best to wait until after that date to begin taking punitive action rather than taking action retroactively.

Trump has taken a sometimes skeptical approach to a finding by U.S. intelligence agencies last year that Moscow meddled in the election campaign to try to tilt the 2016 vote in his favor, and has chafed at a federal investigation into Russia’s role and any collusion by the Trump campaign. Moscow has denied election interference and Trump has denied any collusion.

Mnuchin stressed that the Treasury Department did produce unclassified and classified reports related to the sanctions, as required under the 2017 law. The public version of the reports included a list of wealthy Russians - so-called oligarchs - said to be close to the Kremlin.

“I’ve repeatedly said we are working on sanctions as a follow-up to that,” Mnuchin said.

The Treasury secretary said the administration was continuing to look at the issue of election meddling and was working closely with the FBI, including giving the agency information related to a recent series of indictments against Russian individuals and organizations.

“As appropriate, we will look at sanctioning individuals from the information they have,” Mnuchin said.

Administration officials involved in work on sanctions have said the process is slow-moving for legal reasons and cannot be accelerated purely because of negative media coverage.

Mnuchin said at least one person on the list of oligarchs close to the Kremlin had already been targeted under a separate U.S. sanctions program.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Frances Kerry