WASHINGTON – The White House scrambled Monday to walk back U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s weekend announcement that new economic sanctions against Russia are imminent, but stressed the penalties are still being considered.
Haley created a firestorm Sunday when she said the new sanctions would be imposed by the Treasury Department on Monday, when, in fact, no such announcement was planned, according to two officials familiar with the matter.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to clarify the situation, but her explanation created more confusion and led to suggestions that President Donald Trump had personally intervened to halt the sanctions from taking effect Monday.
“We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future,” Sanders said in a statement.
The two officials, who were not authorized to discuss private administration deliberations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Haley had misspoken when she said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would announce the sanctions Monday “if he hasn’t already.” Haley said the sanctions would target those who are enabling Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s government to continue using chemical weapons.
The two officials said the administration had no plans to announce Syria-related sanctions on Russia this week, although they noted that two entities were hit with such penalties last month in a largely overlooked portion of a sanctions package that dealt mainly with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and hacking.
After Haley’s comments, some in the administration suggested the sanctions now being considered could be rolled out Monday. But others said it would be wiser and more effective to wait for a period longer than three days after the U.S., British and French infuriated Russia with their missile strikes on Syria on Friday.
The officials could not say when the new sanctions would be announced.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump continued to hail the missile attack as perfectly carried out.
Trump tweeted “Mission Accomplished” on Saturday after U.S., French and British warplanes and ships launched more than 100 missiles nearly unopposed by Syrian air defenses. While he declared success, the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.
Trump’s choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 alongside a “Mission Accomplished” banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that would tie down U.S. forces for years.
Later Sunday, Trump sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them in writing of his decision to order the strike. Under the War Powers Resolution, the president must keep Congress informed of such actions.
The nighttime assault on Syria was carefully limited to minimize civilian casualties and avoid direct conflict with Russia, but confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow it was coming. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Jon Huntsman, said in a video, “Before we took action, the United States communicated with” Russia to “reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties.”
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