- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2017

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday indicated a willingness to work with Democrats toward drafting new sanctions targeting Russia in response to Moscow’s unwavering support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

While Russia is already subject to an array of sanctions imposed by the U.S. government, the Senate’s top lawmaker on Friday said its defense of the Assad regime could warrant further penalties.

“If [the administration] feel they need additional sanctions, or we can come up with something that seems to enjoy bipartisan support, I’d be open to it,” Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said when asked if he’d support additional sanctions on Russia, The Hill reported.

Mr. McConnell added he’s “willing to talk” to Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, specifically with respect to sanctioning Russia for continuing to support the Syrian president.

“I think it’s certainly good that the administration’s not lifted any of the existing sanctions,” Mr. McConnell told reporters. “The Russians are not our friends. I think they’ve demonstrated that over and over and over again.”

While the White House has indicated a willingness to sanction Russia itself, the Trump administration been anything but silent this week after Mr. Assad’s regime allegedly killed dozens of innocent civilians with a chemical-weapons attack Tuesday in northern Syria. President Trump responded by authorizing a military strike Thursday against the Syrian government-controlled airfield where the attack was allegedly launched, much to the chagrin of Mr. Assad and his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin.

Russia was sanctioned several times by Mr. Trump’s predecessor, former President Barack Obama, most recently in January when the White House took action against “nine entities and individuals” believed to have interfered in last year’s general election, in addition to expelling dozens of Russian diplomats.

Previously the U.S. and European Union both sanctioned Moscow separately after Russia seized territory from neighboring Ukraine in 2014.

A bipartisan group of senators floated a proposal earlier this year that would implement new sanctions against Russia, but the bill has failed so far to advance within the chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee, The Hill reported.

Mr. McConnell, meanwhile, is hardly the only Senate Republican to weigh new sanctions in the wake of Tuesday’s gas attack. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told reporters on Friday that he’ll be editing a previously introduced bill of his own to address Russia’s ongoing support for the Assad regime.

“I want to amend my own bill and add supporting Assad — the use of weapons of mass destruction [and] enabling him to do that — as a reason he should be sanctioning Putin,” Mr. Graham said Friday.

The Syrian government has denied launching Tuesday’s attack. Russia has since called the Trump administration’s decision to respond militarily as an “act of aggression.”

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