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Transatlantic energy row

US bill on Russia sanctions prompts German, Austrian outcry

A US Senate bill to toughen sanctions on Russia and Iran has been slammed by German and Austrian Social Democrats. Sigmar Gabriel and Christian Kern say it will warp Europe's natural gas network in favor of US suppliers.

The bill passed by US senators 98-2 and forwarded to the US House Representatives prompted a joint outburst Thursday from Gabriel, Germany's foreign minister, and Kern, Austria's chancellor.

The nub is Nord Stream 2, a pipeline project to pump Russian natural gas via the Baltic Sea to landfall in Germany - involving Russia's Gazprom and European energy firms, including Wintershall of Germany and ÖMV of Austria.

"Europe's energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America!" wrote Gabriel and Kern, both center-left Social Democrats.

To threaten European firms also active in the US with sanctions, if they took part in Nord Stream 2, thrust "a completely new, and very negative dimension into European-American relations," the pair wrote.

"In noticeable frankness, the draft US legislation describes what it's really about: the sale of American liquefied petroleum gas and the squeezing out of of Russian natural gas from the European market," said Kern and Gabriel, who was previously economy minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition cabinet comprising her conservatives and Social Democrats.

Two years ago, European Baltic nations aired misgivings because the pipeline would lie on the seabed, bypassing their territories

Additions to deter Trump, Russia

The US bill, opposed only by Republican Rand Paul and independent Bernie Sanders, was originally introduced in the US Senate to slap new sanctions on Iran but ended up with its bipartisan amendment on Russia.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said the add-on was intended to stop "Russia's meddling in our election" and give Congress the final say should President Donald Trump in the future want to ease sanctions, originally imposed by former president Barack Obama.

"Any idea of the president's that he can lift sanctions on his own for whatever reason are dashed by this legislation," Schumer said.

Charles Schumer Washington USA Atom Iran (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Walsh)

Schumer wants Trump overruled, should he want to lift sanctions.

"Today, the United States Senate is asserting its responsibilities regarding foreign policy," added Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, a Republican.

The White House subsequently stated that existing sanctions against Russia were effective enough.

Legislative passage unfinished

The bill would penalize key sectors of Russia's economy, including mining, metals, shipping and railways. Individuals identified as hackers who carried out cyberattacks on behalf of the Russian government would also be targeted.

To become law, the bill must still be passed by the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump.

The legislative addition came with Trump's White House embroiled in a allegations that his campaign team colluded with a Russia effort to sway the United State's 2016 presidential election - a charge leveled by US intelligence chiefs but denied by Russia's Vladimir Putin.

The Senate legislation would impose sanctions on persons involved in Iran's ballistic missile program and Tehran's Revolutionary Guard for alleged terrorism.

ipj/msh (dpa, AP, Reuters, AFP)

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