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White House accuses House Speaker of aiding Iran in latest Ukraine aid push

WASHINGTON, Feb 23 (Reuters) - The White House escalated its criticism of Republican U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson on Friday, accusing him of benefiting Iran and Russia by not putting a national security bill that gives aid to Ukraine up for a vote.

Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters this week, deepening the military cooperation between the two U.S.-sanctioned countries.

Iran is "actively enabling Russia's war in Ukraine and its attacks against Ukrainian cities," deputy press secretary and senior communications adviser Andrew Bates said in a memo viewed by Reuters that will be distributed publicly Friday.

"President Biden is standing up to Iran. But where is Speaker Johnson's supposed commitment not to 'appease Iran' in all this? Nowhere. Instead, his inaction is benefiting Putin and the Ayatollah," the memo says.

Top Biden administration officials spent last weekend in Europe trying to soothe jitters over the prospect of U.S. military aid to Ukraine ending, assuring counterparts from Paris, Berlin and Kyiv as the war enters its third year that Washington will somehow come through.

In previous negotiations with Republicans in Congress over the debt ceiling and other spending, the Biden White House has mostly avoided sharp public criticism as it focused on behind-the-scenes negotiation. But it has targeted Johnson frequently, accusing him in a Valentine's Day poem of threatening border security.

The Senate last week approved a $95 billion bill providing assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan by an overwhelming 70-30 vote, with 22 Republicans joining most Democrats in voting "aye."

Johnson sent the House home for a two-week recess without bringing the measure up for a vote, saying "we're not going to be forced into action by the Senate."

He says any package of international military and humanitarian assistance must also include measures to address security at the U.S. border with Mexico after Republicans blocked a version of the bill that included the biggest overhaul of U.S. immigration policy in decades.

Senate Republicans and Democrats have joined those urging passage of the aid bill. Many believe it would pass the House with bipartisan support if Johnson would allow the chamber to vote.

"Putin has signaled he could attack NATO countries the United States is obligated to defend if he succeeds in Ukraine," the memo warns.

"If House Republicans facilitate Ukraine's defeat, America could face costs infinitely more expensive than the bipartisan investments we need to make in Ukraine's capacity to defend themselves," it reads.

Former President Donald Trump, frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination and a long-standing critic of the NATO alliance, has in recent weeks threatened to abandon some European allies if they were to be attacked by Russia. (Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Nick Macfie)

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