Nikki Haley hits back at White House in rift over Russia sanctions

US ambassador to UN says she doesn’t ‘get confused’ as US rows back on new measures

United States ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.” Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

United States ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.” Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

 

A rift in the Trump administration over future Russia sanctions has spilled out into the open, with administration officials offering contradictory accounts about why it had declined to go ahead with a new round of measures.

Two days after Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s ambassador to the UN, had announced in two television interviews that the US would be imposing further sanctions on Russia for its support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the administration quickly reversed course.

On Tuesday Larry Kudlow, White House economic adviser, told reporters that Ms Haley had gotten “ahead of the curve”.

“She’s a very effective ambassador, but there might have been some momentary confusion about that,” Mr Kuldow said.

Later on Fox News, television host Dana Perino read a quote from Ms Haley: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

The exchange pointed to a growing schism within the US administration on its Russia policy, with the US president often arguing for a softer approach towards Moscow than many of his advisers, including Ms Haley.

In Washington, observers said the gap between Ms Haley’s comments and the White House’s lack of action laid bare tensions that have been beneath the surface for months.

“One hand isn’t talking to the other,” explained one policymaker on Capitol Hill who has been working with the White House on its Russia sanctions.

Rebuke

He added that the decision not to push ahead with the sanctions was a rebuke to Ms Haley, one of the key figures in the administration who had been pushing for a harder line on Russia, leaving questions over how influential that group would be on Russia policy.

“It’s implicit that her chain has been yanked,” he said, adding that Ms Haley had been “really pushing the limits of her space and lane”.

A US official familiar with administration strategy said Mr Trump was still looking for ways to deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin. “The president is always looking for a way in,” the official said.

Mr Trump had been angered that US allies had not been pulling their weight in their joint response to Russian provocations, this person said. Following the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the UK, the US expelled 60 Russian diplomats – the biggest expulsion in US-Russian history – while the British government expelled 23, and France and Germany each expelled four.

“He was upset that others didn’t match [the US action] and were not pulling their weight,” said an official, adding Mr Trump has made demanding allies bear more of the global burden a feature of his presidency. “It goes back to everything he’s said about Nato. ”

‘Far more hawkish’

Some Republicans have played down the divisions in the administration on Russia. House majority speaker Paul Ryan stressed on Tuesday that Mr Trump’s White House had been “far more hawkish” on Russia than its Democratic predecessors.

“Remember the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton reset? Remember them giving missile defence to Russia for nothing in return? We have moved miles in the right direction on our Russia policy . . . The administration has moved and improved our Russia policy dramatically since the last administration,” Mr Ryan told reporters.

Meanwhile, as Mr Putin chaired a meeting with the country’s senior economic officials, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was too early to say that the threat of more US sanctions had passed.

“Perhaps it would be premature to comment on and assess somebody’s decision after just one day, considering the general state of affairs in bilateral relations,” he said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018