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The delay comes after UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Sunday that the administration was planning to unveil new sanctions on Monday to punish the Kremlin in the wake of the chemical attack on Syrian civilians, of which the administration has accused Russia of having been complicit.
“You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down,” Haley said during an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “[Treasury] 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.”
While the White House says that such sanctions remain under consideration, officials say the president has decided to hold off for now in part to see how Russia reacts to the joint US-UK-French airstrikes launched on Syria over the weekend before deciding whether further punitive actions are necessary.
“We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the Trump administration for not following through on the sanctions that Haley teased to, calling it “utterly amazing” that the president is holding back.
“If I were Nikki Haley I would really be embarrassed because she came out very strongly yesterday and said ‘we’re going to do sanctions’ and the president reverses her. There is just no one home in terms of making consistent strong policy when it comes to Russia,” Schumer told reporters. “The staff seem to want to go in one direction, the president keeps pulling them back and that is very bad for the country.”
Administration officials say that the president remains interested in improved relations with Russia and is still open to sitting down with President Vladimir Putin, potentially even at the White House.
“The president still would like to sit down with him,” Sanders said. “Again, he feels like it’s better for the world if they have a good relationship. But that’s going to depend on the actions of Russia. We’ve been very clear, in our actions, what we expect. And we hope that they’ll have a change in their behavior.”
Asked about a report in the Washington Post that the president was frustrated by the scope and severity of the U.S. action to expel 60 Russian intelligence officers in response to the poisoning of an ex-Russia spy and his daughter on British soil, Sanders did not directly refute the report but noted that it was the president who ordered the action that led to the Russian expulsions in the first place.
“The President is the one that gave the directive,” Sanders said. “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. But that’s going to be determined by whether or not Russia decides if they want to be a better actor in this process or not.”
ABC News’ Mary Bruce contributed to this report.