Being opposed to economic warfare is a lonely position in the Senate. Only Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposed legislation passed Thursday levying new economic sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea.
The U.S. already had largely ineffective sanctions against the countries prior to the vote to double down on the policy.
Sanders said he couldn’t support the legislation because it is likely to push Iran into overdrive in terms of nuclear weapons development.
“Following Trump’s comments that he won’t recertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement I worry new sanctions could endanger it,” Sanders tweeted.
Paul is also opposed to sanctions against Iran because he contends that they’re ineffective.
In an op-ed last month, the senator explained that the Iranians are unlikely to respond to sanctions until they see the U.S. place similar weapons restrictions on Saudi Arabia.
Paul wrote: “Let us have sanctions on both countries regarding ballistic missiles, and let us say we will remove them when they come to the table to discuss reducing their armaments. Another way of doing it would be to withhold the $350 billion worth of new weapons and missiles to Saudi Arabia until both sides come together to discuss an arms control treaty. Perhaps you could say we are going to withhold that offer until Saudi Arabia agrees to negotiate with Iran.”
The lawmaker added, in an agreement with Sanders, that new sanctions “may even have a counterproductive effect if Iran decides they somehow abrogate the nuclear agreement.”
“If Iran pulls out of the agreement, I think we will really regret hastily adding new sanctions,” he said.
On Russia, Paul said the new sanctions are the wrong way to address any allegations of the country meddling in the U.S. election.
“Everything we say Russia’s done wrong. So China does,” Paul noted.
A better approach, he said, would be to focus on strengthening the U.S.’s cyber-security to make it more difficult for bad actors to gain access to critical networks.
The ongoing tit-for-tat with Russia is likely to escalate following the issuance of new sanctions, as Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the country will be forced to retaliate.
Soft retaliation began Thursday morning as Russia announced a downsizing of U.S. diplomatic staff in the country.
Stung by the new threat of American sanctions, Russia’s Foreign Ministry says the U.S. must downsize its diplomatic and technical staff in Moscow and other cities. The ministry is also suspending the U.S. Embassy’s use of two sites — a storage facility and a dacha on an island in the Moscow River.
The ministry says the U.S. has until Sept. 1 to cut the number of its staff at the Moscow embassy and at three consulates to match the exact number of Russian diplomats who are working in the U.S. — 455 people, according to the ministry’s announcement.
After Aug. 1, U.S. staff will also be barred from using a recreational property on the bucolic island of Serebryany Bor, along with being barred from using warehouses on Moscow’s Dorozhnaya Street.
Retaliation from the country is likely to intensify in the months ahead.