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White House says open to legislation toughening Russia sanctions

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"We support where the legislation is now and will continue working with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved and it certainly isn't right now," White House press Secretary Sarah Sanders told ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos programme.

[WASHINGTON] The White House said on Sunday it was open to legislation toughening sanctions on Russia as momentum increased in the US Congress for stronger action against Moscow.

Two US senators said they believe the legislation that allows for new sanctions against Russia would pass with enough votes to override a veto should US President Donald Trump decide not to sign the bill.

Republicans and Democrats reached agreement allowing new sanctions targeting Russia, Iran and North Korea in a bill that would limit any potential effort by Trump to try to lift sanctions against Moscow.

"We support where the legislation is now and will continue working with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved and it certainly isn't right now," White House press Secretary Sarah Sanders told ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos programme.

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Many lawmakers hope the bill will send a message to Mr Trump to keep a strong line against Russia.

"I think (it) will pass probably overwhelmingly again in the Senate and with a veto-proof majority," Senator John Thune, a member of the Republican leadership, said on Fox News Sunday.

Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the bill has "broad support in the Senate and in the House." "If (Trump) vetoes the bill, we will override the veto," Mr Cardin said.

In recent weeks, Trump administration officials have met with lawmakers to argue against parts of the Senate version of the bill, including the requirement that Mr Trump obtain Congress' permission before easing sanctions.

The Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act, which was passed by the Senate a month ago, was held up in the House of Representatives after Republicans proposed including North Korea sanctions in the bill.

In Brussels, the European Union has sounded an alarm about the US moves to step up sanctions on Russia, urging Washington to coordinate with its Group of 7 partners.

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, warned that there could be "wide and indiscriminate" unintended consequences, notably on the EU's efforts to diversify energy sources away from Russia.

CONGRESS TO VOTE TUESDAY

Anthony Scaramucci, Mr Trump's new communications director, said Mr Trump has not yet decided whether he would sign the sanctions bill.

"My guess is ... that he's going to make that decision shortly," Mr Scaramucci told CNN's "State of the Union." The House is set to vote on Tuesday, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's office.

The legislation would require the president to submit to Congress a report on proposed actions that would "significantly alter" US policy toward Russia, including easing sanctions or returning diplomatic properties in Maryland and New York that former President Barack Obama ordered vacated in December.

Congress would have at least 30 days to hold hearings and then vote to uphold or reject Mr Trump's proposed changes.

Mr Trump, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg earlier this month, has faced resistance from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers for his pledge to pursue warmer relations with Moscow.

Separately, the top Democrat on the US House Intelligence Committee said he would ask Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner about his past contacts with Russians.

"His counsel has said they will make him available for two hours so we expect this is just going to be the first interview," Representative Adam Schiff said in an interview on CBS's Face the Nation.

Mr Kushner is scheduled to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday and by the House Intelligence Committee the following day.

He has acknowledged meeting the Russian ambassador to Washington last December and it emerged that executives of Russian state development bank Vnesheconombank (VEB) had talks with him during a bank roadshow last year.

REUTERS

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