Tillerson says Trump not 'very happy' with new Russia sanctions bill

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on August 1, 2017, at the briefing room of the US State Department in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says President Donald Trump is not happy with the new package of Congressional sanctions against Russia, particularly because they may hinder efforts to improve ties between the two countries.

"The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place and the way they did, neither the president nor I were very happy about that," Tillerson told reporters Tuesday in the State Department briefing room.

"We were clear that we didn't think it was going to be helpful to our efforts, but that's the decision they made. They made it in a very overwhelming way. I think the president accepts that."

Tillerson's remarks were in contrast with those of Vice President Mike Pence, who said the bill showed Trump and Congress speaking “with a unified voice.”

Tillerson added that Trump will most likely sign the bill adding however that Washington will nevertheless try to restore relations with Moscow.

In July, the US Congress passed a bill targeting various Russian industries including mining, defense, and shipping industries, among others.

The bill needs to be signed by the president before going into effect. In return, Moscow has demanded that the US cut the number of its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 by September 1, and halt their usage of summer houses and embassy storage facilities in Moscow by August 1.

In case of Russia’s response to the US sanctions, Tillerson said any leader would take symmetrical action in response to such a move.

“In terms of their response to that action, I think it's important to recognize that any leader of any country has their whole population watching them as well. And (President Vladimir) Putin has his population in Russia watching him. I think the fact that they felt the need to take symmetrical action, and that's the way they view it is that they were delayed in taking this action,” he added.

The top American diplomat noted that he understands why Russia is taking retaliatory measures now, even though it's a response to a decision made under Barack Obama’s presidency.

Meanwhile, Russia says it is getting contradictory statements from the US over the newly approved sanctions by Congress.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it is important that the US president is thinking about the current situation and prospects for bilateral relations, but his intention to sign the sanctions bill into law contradicts the building of ties.

On Friday, the US House of Representatives and Senate approved a package of sanctions on Moscow for its alleged role in the US 2016 presidential election and the annexation of Crimea.

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