President Donald Trump said Friday that he would scrap action his administration took only a day earlier to crack down on companies accused of helping North Korea evade sanctions.
"It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea," the president tweeted on Friday, though the Treasury announcement he appeared to reference took place Thursday and did not involve "large scale" sanctions. "I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!"
In explaining the president's sudden announcement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn't think these sanctions will be necessary." Trump's tweet and the press secretary's clarification of it sent waves of confusion throughout Washington, from the Pentagon to the White House itself.
On Thursday, Treasury designated two China-based shipping companies that it said has aided Pyongyang in circumventing U.S. and international sanctions. The U.S. and its allies have used those economic measures to push North Korea to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs.
Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un have met face to face twice, but left a summit in Vietnam last month without reaching a deal on denuclearization. Since the summit, reports have emerged of new activity at a North Korean missile research center and rocket site.
Trump's surprise reversal Friday marks a departure from his administration's messaging a day earlier. In a tweet Thursday after the Treasury's announcement, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said "everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure that they are not involved in North Korea's sanctions evasion."
Since exchanging explosive rhetoric with Kim during his first year in office, Trump has aimed to assuage his North Korean counterpart as he pushes for an agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
The president has also tried to tread carefully around China as he tries to reach a trade deal with Beijing and end a potentially devastating trade conflict. The U.S. has viewed getting Beijing to pull back its support for North Korea as crucial to getting the isolated regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
A Treasury Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the president's tweet. The Pentagon referred all queries about it to the White House.