BRUSSELS – -A top European Union official said Wednesday he is broadly satisfied that changes made to the U.S. Russia sanctions bill will protect European interests.
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U.S. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on Wednesday.
Last week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned the bloc could retaliate against the U.S. over the sanctions bill if its concerns about the legislation weren't addressed.
The bill would let Mr. Trump penalize European companies working on the development, maintenance, modernization or repair of energy export pipelines. European officials say that poses a threat to a range of regional energy projects.
However in signing the bill on Wednesday, Mr. Trump issued two accompanying statements that specifically raised concerns about the impact of the legislation on European allies. Mr. Trump said he expects Congress to refrain from using the sanctions legislation to "hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine."
In a news release soon after, the European Commission said Mr. Juncker had signaled in a radio interview to be broadcast later that "he was broadly satisfied that the adopted U.S. sanctions against Russia were watered down at the EU's bidding from the U.S.'s previous plans."
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"At the G-7 summit in Taormina, Italy and at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, I said that should the Americans approve new sanctions, we would be ready to "respond adequately" within a matter of days. That resulted in a large volume of the intended sanctions against Russia being reversed," Mr. Juncker said in the radio interview with German public broadcaster NDR, the commission statement said. "And it also led to the American Congress to declare that these sanctions should only have taken place in agreement with U.S. allies."
While Mr. Juncker didn't allude to Mr. Trump's statement, a senior EU official said the U.S. president's words were "critical" in providing reassurance to the EU that its interests would be safeguarded.
Still, Mr. Juncker warned that if the legislation is implemented in a way that undercuts European interests, "the EU would be ready to react adequately within a matter of days."
The German, French and Austrian governments had taken the lead in criticizing the U.S. legislation in recent weeks.
The sanctions would come on top of others passed by the U.S. and EU after Russia's intervention in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Both Brussels and Washington have tied the easing of sanctions to Russia's implementation of the 2015 Minsk cease-fire and peace accords. The bloc recently extended its sanctions for an extra six months.
Among the changes made to the legislation to assuage European concerns as it passed through Congress were a higher threshold of Russian involvement in projects that could lead to European companies being sanctioned. It was also changed to apply only to new investments in projects, not to existing ones.
The bill also said the president in making decisions on sanctions should "continue to uphold and seek unity with European and other key partners."
The EU nations hadn't said how they would retaliate if changes weren't made to the legislation but officials said the bloc could have lodged a case at the World Trade Organization and applied EU legislation designed to stop European companies complying with U.S. sanctions laws.
However, legal experts have warned that the EU's options to respond to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions -- U.S. legislation that would penalize non-U.S. companies operating overseas -- are limited.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 02, 2017 14:06 ET (18:06 GMT)