Trump halts plan for new sanc­tions against Rus­sia

Pres­i­dent de­scribed as not yet com­fort­able with move

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PHILIP RUCKER, CAROL D. LEON­NIG, AN­TON TROIANOVSKI AND GREG JAFFE

Pres­i­dent Trump on Mon­day put the brakes on a pre­lim­i­nary plan to im­pose ad­di­tional eco­nomic sanc­tions on Rus­sia, walk­ing back a Sun­day an­nounce­ment by U.S. Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions Nikki Ha­ley that the Krem­lin had swiftly de­nounced as “in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic raid­ing.”

Prepa­ra­tions to pun­ish Rus­sia anew for its sup­port of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s gov­ern­ment over an al­leged chem­i­cal weapons at­tack in Syria caused con­ster­na­tion at the White House. Ha­ley had said on CBS News’s “Face the Na­tion” that sanc­tions on Rus­sian com­pa­nies be­hind the equip­ment re­lated to As­sad’s al­leged chem­i­cal at­tack would be an­nounced Mon­day by Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin.

But Trump con­ferred with his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers later Sun­day and told them he was up­set the sanc­tions were be­ing of­fi­cially rolled out be­cause he was not yet com­fort­able ex­e­cut­ing them, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the plan.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said the eco­nomic sanc­tions were under se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion, along with other mea­sures that could be taken against Rus­sia, but said

Trump had not given fi­nal autho­riza­tion to im­ple­ment them. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said Mon­day that it was un­likely Trump would ap­prove any ad­di­tional sanc­tions with­out an­other trig­ger­ing event by Rus­sia, de­scrib­ing the strat­egy as be­ing in a hold­ing pat­tern.

Some­time af­ter Ha­ley’s com­ments on CBS, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion no­ti­fied the Rus­sian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton that the sanc­tions were not in fact com­ing, a Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry of­fi­cial said Mon­day.

The Trump team de­cided to pub­licly char­ac­ter­ize Ha­ley’s an­nounce­ment as a mis­state­ment. White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said in a state­ment Mon­day: “We are con­sid­er­ing ad­di­tional sanc­tions on Rus­sia and a de­ci­sion will be made in the near fu­ture.”

Pri­vately, an­other White House of­fi­cial said Ha­ley got ahead of her­self and made “an er­ror that needs to be mopped up.”

But other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials ex­pressed skep­ti­cism that Ha­ley had merely mis­spo­ken. They said Ha­ley is one of the most dis­ci­plined and cau­tious mem­bers of the Cab­i­net, es­pe­cially when it comes to her pub­lic ap­pear­ances. She reg­u­larly checks in with Trump per­son­ally to go over her planned state­ments be­fore she sits for tele­vi­sion in­ter­views.

Ha­ley is­sued no clar­i­fy­ing state­ment on Sun­day af­ter news or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing The Wash­ing­ton Post, re­ported promi­nently that the new sanc­tions would be an­nounced Mon­day based on her com­ments to CBS.

Asked Mon­day morn­ing why it had taken 24 hours for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to walk back Ha­ley’s com­ments, one White House of­fi­cial said only that there had been con­fu­sion in­ter­nally about what the plan was.

The sanc­tions were de­vel­oped in re­cent weeks as part of a ready menu of po­ten­tial mil­i­tary and eco­nomic mea­sures for Trump to en­act to strike back at As­sad’s gov­ern­ment and his Rus­sian pa­trons, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial.

In early March, fol­low­ing a rel­a­tively small-scale chem­i­cal weapons at­tack in Syria, Trump was up­set there was not a ready set of op­tions, so then-na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser H.R. McMaster pre­pared a se­ries of mea­sures that were not en­acted.

But the late-March poi­son­ing of a for­mer Rus­sian dou­ble agent on Bri­tish soil led the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to trig­ger the first round of the eco­nomic sanc­tions on that menu and to ex­pel 60 diplo­mats in co­or­di­na­tion with Euro­pean al­lies.

The sus­pected chem­i­cal at­tack by As­sad in Douma on April 7 set off a de­bate in the White House about whether the United States should trig­ger an­other round of eco­nomic sanc­tions to pun­ish Rus­sia. The pres­i­dent seemed to re­fer to those mea­sures Fri­day night in a speech an­nounc­ing strikes against the As­sad regime. He promised to re­spond with “all in­stru­ments of our na­tional power: mil­i­tary, eco­nomic and diplo­matic.”

But it was un­clear to of­fi­cials Trump wanted to hit Rus­sia with the next set of op­tions on the sanc­tions menu or wait for an­other at­tack, ac­cord­ing to the se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial.

Some of­fi­cials said the mis­un­der­stand­ing could have been the re­sult of Ha­ley’s ten­dency to speak di­rectly with the pres­i­dent, some­times out­side the nor­mal pol­icy process. “She’ll usu­ally talk to the pres­i­dent with­out the rest of the White House and get her re­marks cleared di­rectly,” said the se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial. “Of­ten we don’t know about them.”

Early in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, there were con­flicts be­tween Ha­ley’s team and the pres­i­dent on Rus­sia. Shortly af­ter Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, Ha­ley de­liv­ered a speech at the United Na­tions that recom­mit­ted the White House to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy on sanc­tions re­lated to Rus­sian ag­gres­sion in Ukraine. The speech was cleared by David Cat­tler, then a se­nior of­fi­cial on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, but the re­marks frus­trated Trump, who de­manded to know who had ap­proved them.

“Lots of peo­ple got yelled at — some by the pres­i­dent,” said a U.S. of­fi­cial at the United Na­tions. Cat­tler, in turn, was pushed out of his job a cou­ple of weeks later in a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the NSC by McMaster.

White House of­fi­cials said Trump has been im­pressed with Ha­ley lately, par­tic­u­larly her re marks about Syria over the past week, and stressed Mon­day that the pres­i­dent holds her in high re­gard.

In the ab­sence of a per­ma­nent sec­re­tary of state, Ha­ley has been the face of Amer­i­can diplo­macy, play­ing an es­pe­cially promi­nent role over the past week as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­sponded to the al­leged chem­i­cal at­tack in Syria.

Ha­ley said Sun­day on CBS: “You will see that Rus­sian sanc­tions will be com­ing down. Sec­re­tary Mnuchin will be an­nounc­ing those on Mon­day, if he hasn’t al­ready. And they will go di­rectly to any sort of com­pa­nies that were deal­ing with equip­ment re­lated to As­sad and chem­i­cal weapons used. And so I think ev­ery­one is go­ing to feel it at this point. I think ev­ery­one knows that we sent a strong mes­sage, and our hope is that they lis­ten to it.”

The Rus­sians were lis­ten­ing. Af­ter Ha­ley’s com­ments, Krem­lin press sec­re­tary Dmitry Peskov told re­porters in Moscow that the sanc­tions were a U.S. ploy to oust Rus­sia from in­ter­na­tional mar­kets and con­sti­tuted “undis­guised at­tempts of un­fair com­pe­ti­tion.”

“The sanc­tion cam­paign against Rus­sia is truly as­sum­ing the na­ture of an ob­ses­sive idea,” Peskov said, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­fax news agency. “We still do not see these sanc­tions as law­ful. We see them as go­ing against in­ter­na­tional law.”

Peskov added: “Cer­tainly, this can­not have any re­la­tion to and can­not be mo­ti­vated by con­sid­er­a­tions of the sit­u­a­tion in Syria or any other coun­try. . . . I would call this in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic raid­ing rather than some­thing else.”

But there was a sub­tle shift in Moscow to­ward a less con­fronta­tional tone, even as of­fi­cials con­tin­ued to slam U.S. sanc­tions as veiled at­tempts at gain­ing eco­nomic ad­van­tage.

Rus­sian law­mak­ers were crow­ing Fri­day that they were go­ing to make the United States pay for al­ready im­posed sanc­tions, po­ten­tially by block­ing Amer­i­can im­ports or U.S.-Rus­sian aero­space co­op­er­a­tion, or al­low­ing Rus­sians to vi­o­late U.S. in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights. Rus­sia, one top law­maker promised, was go­ing to “hit the Amer­i­cans in the gut.”

But on Mon­day, se­nior law­mak­ers in the lower house of par­lia­ment, the State Duma, de­cided to hold off un­til May 15 be­fore con­sid­er­ing any coun­ter­sanc­tions against the United States. Speaker Vy­ach­eslav Volodin said the Duma needed to meet with ex­perts and the busi­ness com­mu­nity first.

Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Ryabkov also urged calm.

“Let’s first wait un­til these sanc­tions are im­ple­mented,” Ryabkov said in ref­er­ence to pos­si­ble new U.S. sanc­tions, In­ter­fax re­ported. “We have to see what will be an­nounced, at what scale, and who or what will be­come the tar­gets of these sanc­tions.”

It was “an er­ror that needs to be mopped up.” White House of­fi­cial, de­scrib­ing the an­nounce­ment by Nikki Ha­ley

HEC­TOR RE­TA­MAL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

U.S. Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions Nikki Ha­ley, cen­ter, lis­tens dur­ing a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil meet­ing Satur­day in New York. Ha­ley said Sun­day that ad­di­tional sanc­tions against Rus­sia would be an­nounced Mon­day. The White House walked back those...

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