The US stressed on Saturday (29 July) that it would “work closely with our friends and allies” after US lawmakers passed sanctions on Russia that upset some European nations, fearful that it could hit their businesses.
Congress passed a bipartisan package targeting Russia, Iran and North Korea on Thursday (27 July), with President Donald Trump later agreeing to sign the bill into law.
The measure is aimed at penalising the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and its annexation of Crimea.
But it has caused some consternation in European capitals, which are accustomed to coordinating anti-Russia measures on both sides of the Atlantic in a common Western front reminiscent of the Cold War.
The EU has expressed worry that the sweeping measures would unfairly penalise European firms that contribute to the development of Russia’s energy sector, and its diplomats had heavily lobbied Washington to water down the measures.
Paris had previously termed the US bill “illegal” in international law, while Berlin had warned its businesses, particularly a controversial pipeline project between Russia and Germany, must not be targeted.
Last week, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel said last week that Berlin would “under no circumstances accept an extraterritorial application of these US sanctions against European companies”.
“Sanction policy is neither a suitable nor an adequate instrument to advance the interests of national exports and the domestic energy sector,” he emphasised.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to assuage those concerns in a statement Saturday.
“The near unanimous votes for the sanctions legislation in Congress represent the strong will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States,” Tillerson said. “We will work closely with our friends and Allies to ensure our messages to Russia, Iran, and North Korea are clearly understood.”
The EU and US previously worked together to impose sanctions in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, overcoming division on how far to go in punishing Moscow.
In addition, the EU broadened sanctions against Russia after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine in July 2014, blamed by the EU on Russian-backed rebels.