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No decision from White House on Russian sanctions bill

The White House said Monday it was evaluating whether President Obama would sign new legislation that would impose additional sanctions on Russia and authorize the administration to send Kiev additional defensive weapons and non-lethal aid.

A senior administration official said it was “important that our sanctions regime strikes a delicate balance that maintains a united front with allies and partners, optimizes costs on Russia, and minimizes the impact on American business, international oil markets and the global economy.” 

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“We will be evaluating whether the amended legislation enables us to sustain this important approach,” the official said.

Obama is under pressure from many on Capitol Hill to sign the legislation, with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWarren, Brown voice support for controversial Biden budget office pick Principles to unify America Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats MORE (R-Ohio) saying in a statement Monday the president should sign the bill “immediately.” 

“With this support, we underline our strong moral commitment to the cause of the Ukrainian people,” Boehner said.

Still, despite the legislation unanimously passing both chambers, there is reason to think Obama will pause before signing it.

The new legislation imposes penalties on Russian weapons exports and oil production imports, targets Moscow’s national energy company if it withholds supplies from European states, and makes rolling those sanctions back more difficult. 

There’s some concern that the penalties could get out in front of European allies, who have sought to impose sanctions without risking significant harm to their own economies, as well as handcuff the administration in future negotiations with Moscow.

During a meeting with top business executives last week, President Obama said that “our ability to keep Europe in lockstep with us” has been “important” in the process for trying to ratchet up pressure on Moscow over its incursions into Ukraine.

“There may be some movement out of Congress for us to get out ahead of Europe further,” Obama said. “We have argued that that would be counterproductive. And we may need some help from the business community in making that argument to the soon-to-be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and others.”

Obama added that he was “intent” on preventing divisions between the U.S. and Europe, and that he saw value in “strategic patience” that would allow the Western world to move in concert against Russia. He worried unilaterally imposing new penalties could lead some Europeans to fracture off.

“The notion that we can simply ratchet up sanctions further and further and further, and then, ultimately, Putin changes his mind I think is a miscalculation,” Obama said.

“What will ultimately lead to Russia making a strategic decision is if they recognize that Europe is standing with us and will be in it for the long haul and we are, in fact, patient. And if they see that there aren’t any cracks in the coalition, then, over time, you could see them saying that the costs to their economy outweigh whatever strategic benefits that they get.”