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President Donald Trump said Tuesday that his administration has not yet reached a deal with Beijing to save telecom company ZTE.
The president contradicted a Wall Street Journal report indicating the Trump administration came to a tentative agreement with Beijing to revive the massive phone maker currently sanctioned by the U.S. government. Under the deal reported by the newspaper, ZTE would face financial penalties and have to make management changes. China could also pull back on billions of dollars in tariffs on U.S. agricultural products, according to the Journal.
Trump denied reports of an agreement, saying "there is no deal" and adding that "we'll see what happens." However, he said moments later that he may seek a fine of up to $1.3 billion and changes in management at ZTE — some of the parameters of the reported deal.
"What I envision is a very large fine of more than a billion dollars, could be [$1.3 billion]. I envision a new management, a new board and very, very strict security rules. And I also envision that they will have to buy a big percentage of their parts and equipment from American companies," the president said.
Trump's remarks came as Moon Jae-in, president of South Korea, visited the White House for pivotal discussions ahead of the planned U.S.-North Korea summit next month in Singapore. On Tuesday, Trump also said the meeting may not happen.
The potential agreement on ZTE sparked bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill, as some lawmakers accused the president of caving to Chinese demands on trade and potentially compromising U.S. national security. The Senate Banking Committee overwhelmingly passed an amendment Tuesday limiting Trump's ability to remove sanctions on Chinese telecommunications companies. The panel approved the measure introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., by a 23 to 2 vote in a rebuke to Trump.
The president added Tuesday that he is "not satisfied" with trade talks with China that took place in Washington last week. He called the negotiations a "start" as his administration keeps working toward a final deal to address trade imbalances with Beijing.
"We have a long way to go," the president said, adding he wants the talks to go "fairly quickly."
The Trump administration previously barred U.S. companies from selling to ZTE due to the company's violation of American sanctions on North Korea and Iran. The Chinese firm has said the move threatened its survival.
Trump previously directed his Commerce Department to consider how it could help ZTE get back into business. On Tuesday, he reiterated that he decided to try to help the company after Chinese President Xi Jinping "asked me to look into it."
He also argued he did so because the inability to sell to ZTE is "really hurting American companies."
The U.S. is currently negotiating with China on the framework of a deal to potentially avoid tariffs levied by the world's two largest economies. Trump also hopes to spur China's buying of billions more in U.S. goods.
While Trump's top advisors have repeatedly said action on ZTE is an "enforcement" issue under the Commerce Department, the president has publicly said it is part of larger trade talks with Beijing.