President Donald Trump said Wednesday that nobody has been tougher on Russia than him and that he'll hit Moscow with new sanctions "as soon as they very much deserve it."
He also said building a good relationship with Russia is a "good, not bad" thing.
Trump commented a day after an internal White House quarrel over the timing of potential new punishment for Russia exploded into public view. He blamed the news media for spreading a narrative that he said portrays him as being afraid to stand up to Russia.
"There's been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump," the president said, citing increased U.S. military spending among his examples. "With the media, no matter what I did, it's never tough enough, because that's their narrative. But Russia will tell you, there's been nobody tougher than Donald Trump.
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Trump mentioned the joint U.S., French and British military operation last weekend that struck several sites in Syria to punish the Russian-backed government of President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack that killed civilians. Trump said the strike was "absolute precision."
Trump had largely avoided criticizing Russia, leaving the harsh rhetoric and sanctions announcements to others in the administration. But he began to criticize Russia on Twitter after the apparent chemical attack this month that spawned images of Syrian adults gasping for air and being hosed off.
Still, Trump said he would prefer good relations with Russia and other nations.
"If we can get along with China, and if we can get along with Russia, and if we can get along with Japan and other nations that's a good thing, not a bad thing. Just remember that," Trump said as he ended a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The leaders had spent the past two days discussing such issues as North Korea and trade — and playing golf.
"If we got along with other nations, that's good, not bad," Trump said.
A day earlier, an internal White House quarrel over the timing of new Russia sanctions played out in public after Trump's new economic adviser suggested U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley suffered from "momentary confusion."
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Haley said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" that new sanctions directed at companies associated with Syria's chemical weapons program would be announced Monday — but they weren't.
Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, told reporters Tuesday that Haley "got ahead of the curve," adding, "There might have been some momentary confusion about that."
Haley retorted with a statement to Fox News saying, "With all due respect, I don't get confused."
Kudlow called Haley on Tuesday afternoon to apologize, a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller in Palm Beach, Florida, and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.