President Donald Trump signaled he would help a Chinese phone maker Sunday, less than a month after the Commerce Department decided to implement a harsh penalty on the company for lying to investigators about violating U.S. sanctions by selling equipment to Iran and North Korea.
“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”
Trump’s Sunday message came as the administration said it could go after European allies if they continue to be involved with Iran. The president pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear agreement on Tuesday and vowed to re-impose sanctions on Iran, including the possible secondary sanctions on companies that do business with the regime.
In March 2017, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made the initial announcement of an “unprecedented” $1.19 billion penalty leveled against ZTE for violating U.S sanctions by shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. ZTE, which reached an agreement with the government on the charges, was further accused of lying to investigators and obstructing a probe into their actions.
Last month, Commerce Department decided to trigger the harshest penalty in the agreement, which was initially suspended in 2017. Because ZTE made additional false statements during the probation period, the department banned American companies from buying or selling the phone maker’s products for the next seven years.
In the past, lawmakers and senior government officials have raised questions about ZTE and other Chinese telecommunications companies. Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas) previously introduced legislation that would ban the U.S. government from using ZTE’s products and would restrict the government from doing business with companies that use ZTE.
“We’re deeply concerned about risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain power inside our telecommunications networks,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told Cotton during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in February. “It is something we have to be very vigilant about.”
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