Spat over Haley 'confusion' raises questions about Trump foreign policy

That two top Trump administration officials got into a spat over Russia sanctions is a sign of potential White House confusion over its own foreign policy.

And a key reason appears to be the president himself - who officials say decided at the last minute to hold off on any sanctions in his continued hopes of having a "good relationship" with Vladimir Putin.

Questions about where U.S. foreign policy stands and is being communicated were highlighted when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley famously pushed back Tuesday on the suggestion that she was confused about possible new sanctions for Russian military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But that suggestion came from a top White House official - Larry Kudlow.

Kudlow, the conservative television personality turned director of the National Economic Council, had told reporters that Haley "got ahead of the curve... there might have been some momentary confusion about that."

Kudlow was referring to Haley's comments over the weekend, when she told CBS's "Face the Nation" that, "Russian sanctions will be coming down. [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."

But Monday came and went with no sanctions because President Trump had decided to put off a decision imposing additional sanctions on Russia in the wake of the Syrian chemical attack, administration officials told ABC News.

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

But Kudlow made it seem like Haley had made a mistake - and Haley defended herself strongly.

"With all due respect, I don't get confused," she said in a phone call with Fox News's Dana Perino, that Perino read on air and a U.S. mission spokesperson confirmed to ABC News.

Hours later, Kudlow apologized, telling ABC News, "There was a process mistake and I shouldn't have said what I said, but I was wrong. She wasn't confused."

He declined to elaborate on what that "process mistake" was, but he told the New York Times, "The policy was changed and she wasn't told about it, so she was in a box," according to the paper.

That confirmed what multiple outlets had reported, that the administration was preparing to sanction Russia over Syria, but backed down last minute.

Administration officials have told ABC News that the president decided to hold off for now in part to see how Russia reacts to the joint U.S.-U.K.-French airstrikes launched on Syria over the weekend before deciding whether further punitive actions are necessary. Trump remains interested in improved relations with Russia and is still open to sitting down with President Vladimir Putin, potentially even at the White House, they added.

"The president still would like to sit down with him," Sanders said Monday. "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."
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