Trump scraps new sanctions against Russia, overruling advisers

US President Donald Trump departing the White House for a trip to Miami, Florida, in Washington DC, on April 16, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - President Donald Trump rejected, for now at least, a fresh round of sanctions set to be imposed against Russia on Monday (April 16), a course change that underscored the schism between the president and his national security team.

The president's ambassador to the United Nations, Ms Nikki Haley, had announced on Sunday that the administration would place sanctions on Russian companies found to be assisting Syria's chemical weapons programme.

The sanctions were listed on a menu of further government options after a US-led airstrike on Syria, retaliating against a suspected gas attack that killed dozens a week earlier.

But the White House contradicted her on Monday, saying that Mr Trump had not approved additional measures.

"We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future," Ms Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement.

Speaking later with reporters aboard Air Force One as Mr Trump headed to Florida, Ms Sanders added that "the president has been clear that he's going to be tough on Russia, but at the same time he'd still like to have a good relationship with them".

Another White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations, said Mr Trump had decided not to go forward with the sanctions. Mr Trump concluded that they were unnecessary because Moscow's response to the airstrike was mainly bluster, the official said.

Russia analysts said the whipsaw policy shift once again highlighted an administration struggling to find a coherent and consistent voice in dealing with Russia, which in the past four years has annexed Crimea, intervened in eastern Ukraine, sought to influence the US election in 2016, allegedly poisoned a former Russian spy living in Britain and propped up the murderous government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Mr Trump has mostly spoken hopefully of his efforts to forge a friendship with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, including congratulating him on a re-election widely denounced as a sham and even suggesting a White House meeting.

At the same time, the Trump administration has imposed two rounds of sanctions against Russia in the last month, expelled 60 of Moscow's diplomats and closed a consulate in retaliation for the poisoning attack in Britain.

Administration officials said new sanctions could be imposed at some point if Russia takes further action justifying them.

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