State Dep’t Vows to Make Russia Comply on Chemical Weapons

WASHINGTON (CN) – Russia will be subjected to a second round of “very severe” sanctions if it fails to comply with international laws around the use of chemical weapons, a state department official told lawmakers Thursday.

The warning was delivered by Manisha Singh, the assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business affairs. Her stance was seconded by Marshall Billingslea, assistant secretary of the Treasury Department’s office of terrorist financing and financial crimes.

The officials came before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to emphasize the need to push back – and harder – against a host of “nefarious activities” from Russia, including the poisoning of former Russian military officer and double agent Sergei Skripal.

The White House announced sanctions on the Kremlin on August 8 after it was confirmed that Skripal – and his daughter – were targeted.

Russia has until November 4 to comply with legislation known as the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991.

Singh told the committee Russia could avoid additional sanctions if it allowed the United Nations to conduct “inspections and receive an affirmation that [Russia] will not use nerve agents on people anymore,” she said.

There has been no indication from Russia that they will comply with this proposal, she said.

If the deadline is missed, the next round of sanctions would be triggered automatically, Singh explained.

They would feature more financial and banking restrictions, more transaction blocking, a prohibition of any defense articles and the end of “any” foreign aid money, she said.

The same ramp up also applies to Iran and North Korea, Singh and Billingslea said Thursday.

With the November deadline set for Russia and the U.S. withdrawn from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, Billingslea told the committee the global business world has been put on notice.

And that includes U.S. allies, he said.

Any nations, entities or people who have dealings with Russia, Iran or North Korea, should wind those transactions down by November 4 or they too could potentially face economic consequences, the treasury official said.

The committee’s ranking democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, was skeptical that the U.S. was fully prepared to handle the fallout from the forthcoming sanctions.

“What about any major buyers of Iranian crude oil? China, Japan, South Korea, Europe, and Australia – are we really prepared to cut their banks off from the global banking system?” Engel asked.

Singh said the State Department is “fully prepared” to work with its allies and that communication encouraging the wind downs has been steady and will continue to be through the deadline.

While the officials spoke to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, a similar conversation unfolded in Moscow.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry met with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and told reporters after the meeting that it was possible – but not imminent – that the U.S. could also impose sanctions on the new, undersea Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

The pipeline is owned by Russia and Germany.

The U.S. and several countries in Eastern Europe have opposed its construction, arguing the pipeline would only increase Europe’s energy reliance on Russia.

The pipeline would also put a damper on U.S. ambitions to sell more liquefied natural gas in Europe.

According to Associated Press, Perry told reporters he would prefer not to impose sanctions at all.

The secretary did not specify what those penalties might look like.

“Minister Novak and I both agree that getting to that point where sanctions would be engaged is not where we want to go,” Perry said.

“Taking into account the answer given by Mr. Perry, I would say that definitely, yes, we are concerned with the statements made and with the general position with regard to future sanctions against a very competitive project which is in the interests of European consumers,” Novak said.

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