Senate panel rebuffs Mattis request on Russia sanctions waivers

Senate panel rebuffs Mattis request on Russia sanctions waivers
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The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of an annual defense policy bill does not include provisions that would give the Trump administration more authority over sanctions waivers for allies who have bought Russian arms, committee staffers said Friday.

The decision to exclude the provisions rebuffs a request from Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey MORE and puts the bill in conflict with the House’s version.

A summary of the committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was released Thursday, but the full bill text will not be released for a few weeks.

At issue are sanctions required by the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which Congress overwhelmingly passed last year.

That bill, which was passed to punish Moscow for destabilizing activities including its election interference, included a section requiring sanctions against those doing business with Russia’s defense industry.

Mattis has been arguing the sanctions bill left no wiggle room to exempt allies who intend to move away from Russian arms, but still need to contract with Moscow to maintain their older equipment.

In a Senate hearing last month, Mattis cited India, Vietnam and Indonesia as countries where the United States is “going to paralyze ourselves” without a national security waiver for sanctions.

The House’s version of the NDAA, which easily passed Thursday, would establish a “special rule” to waive sanctions for 180 days on allies who have bought Russian arms if they have ended their relationship with Russia, are significantly scaling down that relationship or have made other assurances about reducing that relationship.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, though, felt CAATSA already gives Mattis the flexibility to waive sanctions on allies.

“I think there’s a sense among many senators that actually he has the authority to solve the problem that he’s speaking about, provided by CAATSA, in terms of the concern about what do you do with countries that have large relationships, legacy relationships with Russia, military equipment that they have to sustain, spare parts, etc.,” a committee staffer told reporters at a background briefing.

“I think there’s a sense that the CAATSA, as written, provides him the opportunity to address that problem that was first seen in the drafting of CAATSA, and the tools are there.”

The committee also felt the issue was the jurisdiction of the Banking and the Foreign Relations committees, the staffer added.