Trump urges Republicans not to undercut him on ZTE

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump urged Republican lawmakers on Wednesday not to scuttle his administration's efforts to help the Chinese telecom firm ZTE, warning them that his reprieve for the company was part of a broader geopolitical negotiating strategy.

Mr Trump and Republican lawmakers met at the White House to discuss the fate of the company, which had been banned by the Commerce Department from buying US products this year as punishment for violating US sanctions.

The administration has since lifted that ban at Mr Trump's request and over the objections of lawmakers, who voted on Monday to reinstate the penalties on ZTE.

Mr Trump ordered his Commerce Department to water down the penalties, which would have put ZTE out of business, after China's President Xi Jinping personally lobbied him to reconsider.

The deal helped defuse tensions with Mr Xi, whom the US President has relied on to help pave the way for discussions with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.

China and the United States are also locked in a contentious dispute over trade, with both countries threatening tariffs on billions of dollars of each other's goods.

Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, suggested on Wednesday that lawmakers would be willing to compromise with the President to avoid undercutting his leverage in talks with China and North Korea.

The meeting at the White House, however, concluded without reaching a decision.

"I'm pretty optimistic we'll be able to come up with something that preserves the President's leverage," Mr Cornyn said after the meeting. "Because he's telling us, 'Look, when I'm negotiating with Xi, this is more than just trade, this is more than just sanctions. This is about North Korea and other geopolitical issues'."

He added: "So we wanted to make sure we weren't stepping on his need to have credibility and to be able to use his authority to negotiate well in these other spaces."

The Commerce Department initially barred ZTE from buying US products, including semiconductors, for seven years as punishment for violating US sanctions against Iran and North Korea.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2018, with the headline 'Trump urges Republicans not to undercut him on ZTE'. Print Edition | Subscribe