WASHINGTON — It’s been a week of walk backs from the White House after President Trump took questions from reporters at his golf club in New Jersey about some sensitive foreign policy issues.
On Friday, a National Security Council official told Yahoo News that Trump was “being sarcastic” the day before in saying he was “very thankful” Putin had ordered a reduction of hundreds of employees, including diplomats and support staff, in U.S. missions in Russia.
“The president was being sarcastic. We take seriously Moscow’s unwarranted actions against our personnel and diplomatic properties, and we are exploring our response options,” the official said, echoing remarks by White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
The official also praised American diplomatic personnel in Russia and blamed the Kremlin’s “interference in our election and treatment of our diplomats” for starting a “negative trend in our relationship.”
“Our diplomats at our embassy in Moscow and three consulates serve with great distinction and courage,” the official said, adding, “Along with our Russian employees, they face harassment and intimidation as they seek to manage a troubled bilateral relationship and deepen our ties with the Russian people. The president and the secretary of state value their tremendous work and salute them.”
It was the second time in a week that Trump’s comments required a cleanup effort from administration officials. Trump previously raised the possibility of military action against North Korea during one of his working-vacation question and answer sessions, a position that led to multiple clarifications from State Department officials.
Alexander Vershbow, who served as ambassador to Russia and to South Korea under President George W. Bush, told Yahoo News that the messages Trump sent from his golf club seemed “incoherent” and could cause serious risks. Vershbow, who also served as deputy secretary general of NATO and an assistant secretary of defense under President Barack Obama, said clear communications are particularly important in foreign relations.
“In diplomacy, but also in the kind of signaling that you have to conduct against a potential military adversary, you’ve got to be very precise on what your red lines are, and that certainly hasn’t been the case,” Vershbow said of Trump.
Officials from both the National Security Council and the State Department did not respond to requests for comment from Yahoo News asking if…