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President Donald Trump signaled Thursday that he would consider an interim trade deal with China, even though he would not prefer it.
The president told reporters he would like to ink a full agreement with the world's second largest economy. However, he left the door open to striking a limited deal with Beijing.
"If we're going to do the deal, let's get it done," he told reporters as he left for a congressional Republican retreat in Baltimore. "A lot of people are talking about it, I see a lot of analysts are saying an interim deal — meaning we'll do pieces of it, the easy ones first. But there's no easy or hard. There's a deal or there's not a deal. But it's something we would consider, I guess."
Trump's statements add to confusion sparked earlier in the day about what the White House would accept in its ongoing negotiations with China. U.S. stock indexes initially climbed on a report that the Trump administration talked about crafting an interim agreement. A White House official then said the U.S. is "absolutely not" considering such a deal, causing markets to give up some of those gains.
Asked to clarify if Trump's position had changed from earlier in the day, White House spokesman Judd Deere emphasized the president's comment that he would prefer a complete agreement.
Trade negotiators from the world's two largest economies plan to meet next week as they continue efforts to salvage a trade pact and end a widening conflict. The trade war between the U.S. and China has led to concerns about hurt for U.S. consumer and helped to fuel fears of flagging global economic growth.
On Wednesday, Trump said he would hold off on hiking tariff rates on $250 billion in Chinese goods until Oct. 15 instead of Oct. 1. He called it a "gesture of good will" because of "the fact that the People's Republic of China will be celebrating their 70th Anniversary."
As the trade war rages, Trump has downplayed its effects on American consumers and the U.S. economy. The president has said he is fine to leave tariffs in place, arguing China has taken a bigger hit from the duties than the U.S. (American businesses bear much of the cost of Trump's tariffs).
Still, he wants to strike a deal with Beijing and force China to change its trade practices as he looks to show he has followed through on a key campaign promise ahead of his 2020 reelection bid.
— CNBC's Sunny Kim contributed to this report