WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law new sanctions against Russia on Wednesday but he criticized the legislation as infringing on his powers to shape foreign policy, saying he could make “far better deals” with governments than Congress can.
After signing a bill that Congress had approved overwhelmingly last week and which conflicts with his desire to improve relations with Moscow, the Republican president laid out a litany of concerns.
His criticism of the sanctions, which also affect Iran and North Korea, raised the question of how vigorously Trump will enforce them and pursue action against Russia.
“While I favor tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilizing behavior by Iran, North Korea, and Russia, this legislation is significantly flawed,” Trump said in a message to lawmakers.
The new law allows Congress to stop any effort by Trump to ease sanctions on Russia.
Trump said in a separate statement that he was signing the measure “for the sake of national unity” even though he saw problems with it.
His hands were tied after the Republican-controlled Congress approved the legislation by such a large margin last week that any presidential veto of the bill would have been overidden.
Congress passed the measure to punish Russia over interference in the 2016 presidential election and the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.
The legislation has provoked countermeasures by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia must reduce its staff by 755 people. Russia is also seizing two properties near Moscow used by American diplomats.
Trump has repeatedly said he wants to improve relations with Russia. That desire has been stymied by U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia interfered to help the Republican against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
U.S. congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating. Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign.
After the signing, Russia’s United Nations ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said the new sanctions harm bilateral relations but will not change Russian policy.
“Some U.S. officials were saying that this is a bill that might encourage Russia to cooperate with the United States; to me that’s a strange sort of encouragement,” he told reporters.
Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan welcomed the signing, saying in a statement it would send “a powerful message to our…