President Donald Trump on Thursday said he would not meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping before the March 2 deadline to reach a Chinese-U.S. trade deal.
Trump's remarks came hours after CNBC reported, citing a senior administration official, that it was "highly unlikely" for the meeting to happen in the coming weeks.
While Trump and Xi are still expected to meet eventually, there's too much work to do to flesh out a deal with China and prepare Trump for a high-stakes meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un. Trump's summit with Kim is set for Feb. 27-28.
Trump and Xi may still meet "shortly thereafter" March 2, said the official, who requested anonymity, citing a lack of authorization to speak publicly about the talks.
Later Thursday, when asked whether he would meet the Chinese leader, Trump said: "Not yet." Pressed further on whether he would meet Xi before the March deadline, Trump said "no" and shook his head.
White House officials have advised against merging the issues of China and North Korea, despite China's invitation for Xi and Trump to meet immediately following the Kim summit.
The administration official cautioned that the situation was fluid and that the status of the meeting could change after a trade delegation travels to Beijing next week.
Trump's top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, told reporters Thursday that he expects Xi and Trump to meet, but that when and where it happens is still up in the air.
Earlier, Kudlow told Fox Business that there's a "pretty sizable distance" to go on a potential trade deal between the world's two largest economies.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said he and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would make a recommendation to Trump on whether to agree to a summit after the two return from their trip to China next week. A delegation of U.S. deputies will conduct talks beginning Monday, with Lighthizer and Mnuchin joining later in the week, according to an administration official and a person briefed on the plan.
The question now is what happens to a tranche of tariffs in Chinese goods that is set to double automatically after March 1, in lieu of a presidential order. The likely outcome is that the tariffs remain at the current 10 percent rate, according to two administration officials and two people briefed by the White House.
The deadline was raised in a Feb. 6 briefing with the Senate Finance Committee. The information Lighthizer provided was "not very definitive," according to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee's chairman.
As part of a broader deal, China is expected to require tariffs to be removed entirely, Lighthizer said, but he declined to say what would happen if a deal is not reached by the March 2 deadline.
The U.S. may also consider an alternative: a "snap-back," in which certain tariffs are selectively rolled back but could be reintroduced if China does not follow through, according to three people briefed by the administration.