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The U.S. Capitol building is seen as the U.S. House of Representatives prepare for a planned vote on the American Health Care Act, promoted by House Republicans and the Trump administration to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act act known as Obamacare, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg


By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday for legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran and Russia, and force President Donald Trump to get Congress' approval before easing any existing sanctions on Russia.

The 100-member Senate backed the measure by a margin of 98-2.

Republican Senator Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, were the only two "no" votes.

The bill includes new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile programme and other activities not related to the international nuclear agreement reached with the United States and other world powers.

The Senate this week also added new sanctions punishing Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and support for Syria's government in that country's six-year-long civil war.

Lawmakers also voted overwhelmingly earlier on Thursday to add provision to the bill allowing the U.S. space agency NASA to continue using Russian-made rocket engines and reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance.

To become law, the legislation still must pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump. House aides said they expected the chamber would begin to debate the measure in the coming weeks, although they could not predict when it might face a final vote.

Trump's secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had questioned the legislation in testimony in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

"I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation," he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

However, aides in both the Senate and the House said they expected support for the bill would be strong enough to override a Trump veto if necessary.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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