Tillerson asks for 'flexibility' in Russian sanctions

Tillerson asks for 'flexibility' in Russian sanctions
© Greg Nash

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Congress on Wednesday against passing any further sanctions against Russia that would prohibit "dialogue" with the country on issues like counterterrorism.

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting Tuesday, Tillerson said that he agrees with Congress that Russia needs to be punished for meddling in the 2016 election, but asked lawmakers for "flexibility."

"I certainly agree with the sentiment that has been conveyed by several members from both parties that Russia must be held accountable for its meddling in U.S. elections," Tillerson said.

"I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation."

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The Senate reached a deal on Monday to impose new sanctions on Russia for "malicious cyber activity." The legislation would also give Congress the power to review and potentially block President Trump from easing or lifting Russia sanctions, including penalties imposed by President Obama at the end of last year.

There has been concern, particularly among Democrats, that Trump will not be as tough as necessary with Russia.

“By codifying existing sanctions and requiring Congressional review of any decision to weaken or lift them, we are ensuring that the United States continues to punish President Putin for his reckless and destabilizing actions. These additional sanctions will also send a powerful and bipartisan statement to Russia," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMontana's environmental lobby teams with governor to kill 600 jobs Dems allow separation of parents, children to continue, just to score political points Democrats' education agenda would jeopardize state-level success MORE (D-N.Y.) said on Monday.

Tillerson explained that the Trump administration wanted to make sure it had the "ability" to continue a "constructive dialogue" with Russia.

"We would ask for the flexibility to turn the heat up when we need to, but also to ensure that we have the ability to maintain a constructive dialogue," he said.