"This is not a quid pro quo or anything else", Mnuchin told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. Then it turned out that the sanctions were going to force ZTE out of business, which, while pretty unfortunate, seemed pretty in line with the US's current protectionist platform.
The Commerce Department blacklisted ZTE, the second-largest manufacturer of cellphones in China, from doing business with the USA because the firm failed to comply with a settlement reached after it violated sanctions against North Korea and Iran.
According to Reuters sources, a proposed trade deal with China would lift a seven-year ban that prevents U.S. chipmakers and other companies from selling components to ZTE.
"Sadly #China is out-negotiating the administration & winning the trade talks right now". Trump needs China's help on North Korea after all - which, you would think, would have been a good reason not to slap tariffs on Beijing and risk a trade war this spring, as the US pursued diplomacy with Kim Jong Un.
And in remarks at the White House Tuesday, Trump said he envisioned ZTE having to pay another fine, plus installing a new board and management structure, in exchange for sanctions relief. "I'm not satisfied, but we have a long way to go".
"As someone who was part of diplomatic talks, this story on how Trump team screwed up China negotiations is a textbook case of almost EVERY SINGLE THING you should NOT do", Goldenberg tweeted Monday. "So I'm looking at it", he said.
But vague assurances that China will buy more farm products aren't good enough for some lawmakers, especially those from states that depend heavily on agricultural exports. Sen.
"They're scared to death", Sasse said, adding that he would "love to see the particulars" of the China proposal that Trump mentioned in his tweet.
At a separate hearing on Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended Trump's request to ask the Commerce Department to take a second look at remedies imposed on ZTE.
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President Trump and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands after making joint statements at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9, 2017.
"It gives the appearance that the Chinese are doing what they've always done to us: put in significant delay tactics", DiMicco, who now serves on an advisory committee for the the U.S. Trade Representative, said in a phone interview.
As the administration continues to send mixed signals on the status of the negotiations, lawmakers are wasting no time preparing legislation to potentially check Trump's authority to lift sanctions on ZTE.
The House of Representatives is voting this week on its annual defense authorization bill which contains a provision which would prevent the military from working with contractors that use ZTE devices and networks.
The ban crippled the manufacturing operations at ZTE, which announced it was suspending major operations.
Trump also succumbed to pressure from farm-state Republicans, who heavily lobbied the White House to resolve its trade differences with China, which had especially targeted USA agricultural products with planned retaliatory tariffs. The Senate measure, introduced by Sen.
Congress last year passed a law that required the administration to impose new sanctions on Russian Federation, though similar action this year could be more hard as the November elections draw near. John Cornyn, R-Texas., that would do just that.
Exports of agriculture were directly or indirectly responsible for 524,000 jobs in 2014, according to analysis by the International Trade Administration; petroleum and coal products were responsible for an additional 255,000.