WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated his claim that nobody has been tougher on Russia than him and that he will impose new sanctions on Moscow "as soon as they very much deserve it."
Trump was not more specific on possible sanctions while speaking on April 18 during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
He made the commments after initially ending the news conference but returned to the podium to answer shouted questions from reporters about the sanctions.
"There will be sanctions as soon as they very much deserve it," he said.
"There has been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump," Trump said, citing increased NATO spending and the military strike by U.S., British and French forces on Syria, Russia's ally.
The remarks came after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations hit back against a suggestion by Trump's chief economic adviser that she was confused over possible new sanctions targeting Russia.
The comments by Nikki Haley (eds. -- a woman) on April 17 came just two days after she said in a television interview that new sanctions on Russia would be announced on April 16 over Moscow's backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The purported punitive measures, however, did not materialize, and the White House later walked back Haley’s statement. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Washington was "considering additional sanctions on Russia, and a decision will be made in the near future."
The Washington Post and Reuters cited unidentified sources, including a senior administration official, as saying Trump had delayed imposing the sanctions the same day as Haley's comments.
Speaking to reporters on April 17, Trump's chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Haley "got ahead of the curve" and that "there might have been some momentary confusion." Haley rejected the notion that she had been "confused," and Kudlow later apologized for his comments.
Meanwhile, Trump in the Florida news conference declined to say whether he plans to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
"As far as the two gentlemen you told me about, they've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months," he said. "Four months. Five months. And they're still here. So we want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us."
Mueller has been probing possible collusion between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russian officials and possible obstruction of justice. Mueller’s office is under the supervision of Rosenstein.
The U.S. leader also said he hoped a planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be successful but that he would walk out of the talks if they were not proceeding as he wanted.
"If we don’t think it’s going to be successful... we won’t have it," Trump said, adding: "If the meeting, when I’m there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting."