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Trump Reverses Course, Lifts Some Sanctions Against Chinese Telecom Firm Huawei

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Stock prices soared to record highs today, catapulted by President Trump's announcement that the U.S. is talking trade once again with China. Trump also said this weekend that he's easing trade restrictions on the Chinese telecom giant Huawei. It's not clear whether the decision is a lifeline for Huawei or just a negotiating ploy. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Trump has taken an especially hard line against Huawei, calling it a very dangerous company and an extension of Chinese intelligence. His decision to put the company on a Commerce Department blacklist in May would have forced U.S. companies to obtain a license before selling to Huawei. But over the weekend, Trump softened his position. He said U.S. companies can now do business with Huawei as long as the transactions don't present a great national security problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We sell to Huawei a tremendous amount of product that goes into the various things that they make. And I said that that's OK, that we will keep selling that product.

ZARROLI: Trump didn't specify what kinds of products are now permitted. And there's been considerable speculation about just how much of a reversal this was. Huawei last year bought $11 billion in computer chips and other items from U.S. companies such as Intel and Qualcomm. White House official Larry Kudlow told Fox News on Sunday that the Commerce Department would probably open the door to sales of some kinds of items, such as computer chips that are widely available in other countries.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

LARRY KUDLOW: There's a lot of technology services, telecom-related services that, really, you can find on general markets and we don't think have any national security implications.

ZARROLI: But Kudlow was quick to insist that this wasn't amnesty for Huawei, and national security concerns would remain paramount. Trump's apparent shift underscores how delicate an issue Huawei remains for the administration. China hawks in Congress and the White House want Trump to take a harder line against the telecom giant. But economist Patrick Chovanec of Silvercrest Asset Management says both countries are just anxious to get back to the table, so they can address their trade differences.

PATRICK CHOVANEC: Trump and Xi, I think, both have the incentive to sort of call a timeout because both economies are looking a little bit wobbly.

ZARROLI: And China had threatened not to restart talks unless the Huawei ban was eased. Hudson Institute senior fellow Rob Spalding says Trump probably thought he needed to concede something, so negotiations could resume.

ROB SPALDING: I think the president wanted to give President Xi a face-saving gesture in order to restart talks.

ZARROLI: And for now, that seems to have worked. And the two countries say they're ready to start talking again. Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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