Senators Push for Sanctions Against Russia


By Debbie Gregory.

Legislation with bipartisan support that would increase sanctions against Russia for its alleged interference in November’s U.S. presidential election was introduced in the Senate.

Among the bill’s chief and co-sponsors are Senators Ben Cardin, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio.

The legislation – called the “Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017 – is designed to show that key Republicans are intent on punishing Russia despite Trump’s desire to strengthen bilateral ties.

The measure was introduced four days after the U.S. intelligence community released a declassified version of a report accusing Russia of meddling in the election.

The new sanctions would impose visa bans and freeze the assets of “those who undermine the cybersecurity of public or private infrastructure and democratic institutions,” according to a summary of the legislation. It would also impose sanctions on transactions with the Russian defense and intelligence sectors, potentially making it harder for banks to do business with the Russian military and spy agencies.

The measure would authorize $100 million for the State Department and other U.S. agencies to counter Russian propaganda.

If the bill becomes law, the Trump administration would not be required to implement the sanctions. Senator Cardin said a waiver probably would be included in the bill to allow the president to waive the sanctions if it is in the best interests of the U.S.

“There’s separation of branches of government that you have to respect,” Cardin said. “We are not the enforcing arm. We set the policy, but the president has the responsibility to carry out the laws that we’ve passed. There’s ways that we can provide for accountability, but we don’t impose sanctions. It’s done by the administration.”

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Senators McCain and Graham Call for Troops to Battle IS


By Debbie Gregory.

Republicans Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have called for an increase in military force in Iraq and Syria.

They want to see 10,000 troops in each country as part of a multinational ground force to counter Islamic State (IS).

They are both critical of the president’s strategy in fighting IS, which relies on air strikes and modest support to local ground forces, and expressed that U.S. personnel could provide logistical and intelligence support to a proposed 100,000-strong force from Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Both Russia and Iran have increased their military support for President Bashar al-Assad’s fight against rebels in Syria’s four-and-a-half year civil war.

Graham said that if the U.S. leads a regional force to fight IS in Syria and removes Assad from power, it will find support from Arab leaders.

“We were talking to the now-King of Saudi Arabia (Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud) before he became king and he told John McCain, who he admires greatly, ‘You can have our army, you just gotta deal with Assad.’ The emir of Qatar said ‘I’ll pay for the operation,’ Graham said. “But they’re not going to just fight ISIL and let Damascus fall into the hands of the Iranians. Assad has to go.”

U.S. counter-terrorism experts have warned that deploying ground troops risks backfiring by feeding Islamic State’s apocalyptic narrative that it is defending Islam against an assault by the West and its authoritarian Arab allies.

McCain said it would be possible but not easy to rally Arab allies to contribute to the proposed ground force in Syria.

“The question… is being asked all over the capitals of the West right now,” he said. “(Arab) countries for a long time have not seen what’s happening as a direct threat to them. Now I believe that they do.”

Graham said an increased American presence in Iraq would include forward air controllers and aviation assets as well as Special Forces.

Iraqi politicians have voiced opposition to an increase in U.S. forces.

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