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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe, Russia Rage at Sanctions


BRUSSELS -- Western Europe and Russia have reacted with fury to U.S. laws threatening foreign companies that do business with Cuba, Iran and Libya and European Union officials say that this time the anger might be backed by action.

Although transatlantic trade spats have often been monuments to the art of brinkmanship, ending in last-minute agreements to avert sanctions, the latest row over punitive American trade laws is different in several respects.

For example, Washington is not threatening actions -- it has taken them. The Helms-Burton law punishing companies that have certain kinds of links with Havana, and the D'Amato law setting sanctions on firms investing in oil and gas projects in Libya and Iran have both been signed.

Perhaps more significantly, the EU's 15 nations have shown an unusual degree of solidarity in reacting to the U.S. moves, which are seen as encroaching on the rights of foreign governments and firms to make their own decisions.

"It's a completely unacceptable form of conducting trade and foreign policy," said one EU diplomat said, echoing the tone emanating from EU capitals. "If America gets away with this, why can't other countries do it?"

The Russian Foreign Ministry also weighed in with harsh criticism of the measure.

The bill "contradicts international law and is unacceptable,'' ministry spokesman Vladimir Andreyev said at a news briefing. What's more, it "will not facilitate stabilization in the Middle East and will not help in the fight against terrorism,'' Interfax quoted Andreyev as saying.

EU officials say they themselves were surprised by the speed with which EU foreign ministers agreed on a list of tentative retaliatory actions at a meeting in Brussels in July.

It took only about half an hour for the ministers to endorse in principle a European Commission proposal for responding to the Cuba bill, which Washington sees as essential in putting pressure on the island's communist regime.

Possible actions, since formalized, include barring EU companies from paying U.S. fines, drafting a "watch list" of U.S. companies that might benefit from the law at EU firms' expense, and setting visa or entry restrictions.

Western European politicians, many hoping that Clinton's approval of the two laws is a matter of internal U.S. election politics that will lose significance after November, sought on Tuesday to play down the likelihood of an all-out trade war.

"I am not convinced that everything will be eaten as hot as it's being cooked up," German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said on German radio.