Obama Unrolls New Sanctions Against Russia

President Obama delivered a whirlwind news conference Wednesday, discussing a series of foreign policy issues from Afghanistan to Ukraine. Obama also announced a new round of sanctions against Russian banks, energy companies and individuals for what he sees as interference in Ukrainian affairs.

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President Obama had some announcements today on U.S. policy overseas. In the White House briefing room, the president ran through a long list of what he described as pressing foreign policy challenges - questions about the election results in Afghanistan, Iranian nuclear talks, the ongoing violence between Hamas and Israel and finally, the situation in Ukraine. The U.S. government imposed new sanctions on Russia today over interference in that country. Here's how President Obama summed it up.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We live in a complex world and at a challenging time. And none of these challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions, but all of them require American leadership. And as commander-in-chief, I'm confident that if we stay patient and determined, that we will in fact meet these challenges.

CORNISH: We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith to talk through the various international challenges discussed by the president today, and, Tamara, let's start with the sanctions against Russia. This is the third round of sanctions - tell us more about them, who they target, what they're trying to accomplish here.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The sanctions target two major Russian banks and two energy companies. And according to a senior administration official, these sanctions will effectively limit access to U.S. financial markets for this firms. And these firms, according to that official, do access the U.S. capital markets regularly. So in theory, this should hurt. There are other sanctions too, targeting eight defense firms and several individuals, including an aide to Russian president Vladimir Putin. And they will see any assets they have in the U.S. frozen.

CORNISH: Now, European leaders also announced sanctions today, but those were more limited than what the U.S. is doing. What does this tell us about the unity here with the global community when it comes to sanctions?

KEITH: The administration is downplaying the difference in severity and playing up the close coordination between the U.S. and its partners. The real question here, though, is whether these sanctions, either the ones from the Europeans or the American sanctions, will be more of a deterrent to Russian involvement in Ukraine than past actions. And that isn't really clear. The administration does want Russia to know that it has more severe sanctions in its arsenal and it's not afraid to use them. A next step would be sanctions that target whole sectors of the Russian economy rather than just a few banks or energy firms. But the European allies have been quite reluctant to go there so far.

CORNISH: President Obama also brought up the Middle East. And begin by telling us what he had to say about the ongoing violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

KEITH: He said that he supports the ongoing diplomatic efforts to end the violence between Israel and Hamas. And he said he is heartbroken by the violence and the deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza.

CORNISH: And finally, Tamara, Iran - time is running out on the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. What did you learn from the president about that today?

KEITH: The president said that progress is being made, but there's a July 20 deadline. And there are till some gaps. There isn't a deal yet on that nuclear program. Obama didn't really make any news here, but he said his administration will continue consulting with negotiators as well as Congress. And he seemed to be opening the door to the possibility of an extension. So in short, he made a seven minute statement highlighting multiple international challenges and he didn't even mention Iraq and Syria.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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