US President Donald Trump was being "sarcastic" when he thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for saving the US money.
According to a White House spokeswoman, Mr Putin ordered cuts in US diplomatic staff in Russia.
Nearly 24 hours after Mr Trump made the remarks, the @NBCPolitics Twitter account posted on Friday "Sarah Huckabee Sanders says President Trump 'was being sarcastic' when he thanked Putin for expelling diplomats from Moscow" as the explanation for Mr Trump's unusual remarks.
Breaking nearly two weeks of silence on Mr Putin's July 30 order cutting US embassy and consulate staff by nearly two thirds, Mr Trump said on Thursday: "I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll," adding "there's no real reason for them to go back."
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The remarks were likely to rekindle criticism of Mr Trump's kid-glove handling of Putin and they differed from the reactions of other presidents in similar circumstances in the past.
It also clashed with a State Department official having called Moscow's order "a regrettable and uncalled-for act".
Mr Putin, reacting to new sanctions imposed by the US Congress and reluctantly signed into law by Mr Trump, ordered Washington to cut 755 of its 1200 embassy and consulate staff by September.
Many of those affected likely will be local Russian staffers.
Reuters / Newshub