Friday, December 15, 2017 | ePaper

Tillerson warns against steps that cut off talks with Russia

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AP, Washington :
The U.S. relationship with Russia is at an all-time low and deteriorating further, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday, yet he cautioned against taking steps that might close off promising avenues of communication between the two former Cold War foes.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson was noncommittal about a package of new Russia sanctions, saying he's still reviewing the proposed penalties that Senate Republicans and Democrats agreed upon after lengthy negotiations. But it's important, he stressed, that President Donald Trump have the flexibility "to turn the heat up" on Russia if necessary.
At the same time, he also said he doesn't want to preemptively shut down a potentially productive conversation. As an example, Tillerson said talks with Moscow on stabilizing war-ravaged Syria are progressing, but it's too early to tell if the discussions will bear fruit. Imposing more sanctions could lead the Russians to curtail the dialogue.
Top lawmakers on two Senate committees - Banking and Foreign Relations - announced the sanctions deal late Monday amid the firestorm over Russia's meddling in the presidential election and investigations into Moscow's possible collusion with members of President Donald Trump's campaign.
The plan calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on corrupt Russian figures, those involved in human rights abuses and those supplying weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The package also would require a congressional review if a president attempts to ease or end current penalties. And, penalties would be slapped on those responsible for malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government.
If the Trump administration decides to oppose the new sanctions, they could be in a bind. The package is to be added to a bill imposing penalties on Iran that the Senate is currently debating.

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