BIARRITZ, France (AP) — President Donald Trump, under pressure to scale back a U.S.-China trade war partly blamed for a global economic slowdown, claimed Monday that the two sides will begin serious negotiations soon.
Trump said his trade negotiators had received two “very good calls” from China Sunday. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said he didn’t know what Trump was talking about.
Trump’s optimistic comments about China came hours after he sent mixed messages on the tariff war. He at first seemed to express regret over escalating the trade dispute, but the White House later said Trump’s only regret was that he didn’t impose even higher tariffs on China.
On Monday, Trump claimed the Sunday evening conversations were a sign China is serious about making a deal.
“I think we’re going to have a deal, because now we’re dealing on proper terms. They understand and we understand,” Trump said as he met with Egypt’s president on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in France.
“This is the first time I’ve seen them where they really want to make a deal. And I think that’s a very positive step,” Trump added.
Trump declined to identify those involved in the most recent conversation or say whether he is in direct contact with President Xi Jinping. Trump added Monday that the two sides will begin ‘talking very seriously,” saying that after the calls he believes the Chinese “mean business.”
It was unclear if Trump was referring to the previously scheduled talks next month or some other conversations.
The Chinese seemed to not know about any calls.
“I have not heard of the weekend calls mentioned by the United States,” said Geng Shuang a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry.
Trump’s optimistic comments about China came as he commented for the first time on the surprise appearance at the G-7 summit by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and as the international gathering put Trump’s differences with his counterparts on display.
World leaders had encouraged Trump all weekend to deescalate the conflict with China, he clashed with French President Emmanuel Macron over new France’s digital services tax, and he broke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in not forcefully condemning North Korea’s recent ballistic missile launches.
But Trump on Monday claimed the reports of disagreements were overblown, starting with the Zarif visit.
Uncharacteristically silent Sunday while Zarif was in France, Trump insisted that Macron had asked his “approval” before asking Zarif to attend, as he looks to lower tensions in the Persian Gulf. And Trump rejected the assertion by some allies that the invitation to Zarif was somehow an insult.
“I spoke to President Macron yesterday and I knew everything he was doing and I approved whatever he was doing and I thought it was fine,” Trump said of the Zarif talks. He said he thought it was too soon for he and Zarif to meet but wouldn’t say whether any Americans had been in contact with the Iranian. The Iranian government had said they would not meet with any Americans during the eight-hour visit to France.
Trump said there could soon be time for a meeting between himself and Iranian officials, but refused to lay out clear steps forward or say if he’d be willing to accede to a plan put forward by Macron to offer Iran some relief from crushing petroleum sanctions in exchange for restarting nuclear talks. He said of the Iran talks, “It’s all very new. They’re under a lot of financial stress.”
After a breakdown in talks this spring, Trump and Xi agreed in June to resume negotiations. But talks in Shanghai in July ended with no indication of progress. Negotiators talked by phone this month and are due to meet again in Washington next month.
Trump last week hiked tariffs on China after China taxed some U.S. imports in retaliation for a previous round of imports levied by Trump.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 600 points Friday as the latest escalation in the trade war rattled investors. The broad sell-off sent the S&P 500 to its fourth straight weekly loss.
Trump also “ordered” U.S. corporations to find alternatives to doing business in China and threatened to declare a national emergency to enforce it. Trump softened the threat Sunday, saying he would only consider it if China again responded with raising tariffs on American goods.
On Sunday, Trump seemed to express regret over the escalating trade war, which some analysts blame for signs of weakness in the U.S. and global economy.
But the White House later said Trump only regretted that he didn’t impose even higher tariffs on China.’
Associated Press writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.