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Trump to sign Iran, Russia sanctions bill

Bill sanctions Iran's ballistic missile programme, members of Revolutionary Guard and those accused of human rights abuses
President Donald Trump will sign into law bill that ramps up sanctions against Iran, Russia and North Korea (AFP)

President Donald Trump will sign into law a bill that will ramp up sanctions against Iran, Russia and North Korea, the White House said on Friday, ending speculation over whether he might veto the measure.

"President Donald J Trump read early drafts of the bill and negotiated regarding critical elements of it," spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

"He has now reviewed the final version and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign it."

The US House of Representatives and Senate voted overwhelmingly this week to slap new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea, despite Trump's initial objections to the legislation.

The bill adds sanctions to anyone involved in Iran’s ballistic missile programme, including those who “manufacture, acquire, possess, develop, transport, transfer, or use such capabilities".

It also places sanctions on anyone involved or affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which the US alleges "is the primary arm of the Government of Iran for executing its policy of supporting terrorist and insurgent groups".

In addition, the bill gives the US secretary of state the power to compile for sanctions a list of Iranian individuals who have committed human rights abuses.

The legislation was in part a response to conclusions by US intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election, and to further punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In response to the latest measures, the Russian foreign ministry said the United States had until 1 September to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people, the number of Russian diplomats left in the United States after Washington expelled 35 Russians in December.

Russia had been threatening retaliation for weeks. Its response suggests it has set aside initial hopes of better ties with Washington under Trump, something the US leader, before he was elected, had said he wanted to achieve.

Relations were already languishing at a post-Cold War low because of the allegations that Russian cyber interference in the election was intended to boost Trump's chances, something Moscow flatly denies. Trump has denied any collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.

The Russian foreign ministry complained of growing anti-Russian feeling in the United States, accusing "well-known circles" of seeking "open confrontation".

President Vladimir Putin had warned on Thursday that Russia would have to retaliate against what he called boorish US behaviour. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Friday that the Senate vote was the last straw.

A top White House aide said on Thursday that Trump might veto the bill in order to push for a tougher deal, an idea that drew scepticism in Congress because his administration had spent weeks lobbying for a weaker bill. Trump now has a 10-day window in which he can veto the bill, but the legislation is expected to garner enough support in both chambers to override any veto.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by telephone that Russia was ready to normalise relations with the United States and to cooperate on major global issues.

Lavrov and Tillerson "agreed to maintain contact on a range of bilateral issues," the Russian foreign ministry said.