Robert O'Brien suggests Phase One trade deal with China will be impacted by coronavirus

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National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien says that components of the long-awaited trade deal with China will likely be impacted by the coronavirus the death toll continues to climb in the region.  In a conversation with "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan at the Atlantic Council, O'Brien admitted that Chinese promised purchases under the Phase One trade deal will be reduced as a result of the growing health emergency. 

"This could have an impact on the phase one deal. It's not gonna change the phase one deal. It's just we expect that is part of the phase one deal. China will expend more money on U.S. agricultural products. And we'll have to see how that plays out," O'Brien said. 

The trade pact signed in January brought to a close a nearly two-year-long trade battle between the U.S. and Beijing which addressed intellectual property protection and enforcement, ending forced technology transfer, the expansion of American agricultural purchases, ending currency manipulation and re-balancing the U.S.-China trade relationship. 

As part of the agreement, the Chinese will also be buying up to $200 billion in U.S. goods, including agricultural products like soybeans and pork, offering some relief to U.S. farmers. 

O'Brien specifically pointed to the previous swine flu outbreak as having a major impact on China's pork industry, further driving up the need to import food and open up markets to American farmers. While the deal would be beneficial to American interests in tech and agricultural sectors, O'Brien cautioned that the pact would not have as immediate an impact in year one of implementation as the administration would have hoped for. 

"As we watch this coronavirus outbreak unfold in China, it could have an impact on how big, at least in this current year the purchases are," he conceded. 

While the virus continues to surge, with 13 confirmed cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, O'Brien explained that while it's known where the virus originated, it's not know how.

O'Brien also acknowledged the lack of American medical teams on the ground in China having been largely ignored by Beijing, something the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. rebuffed during his appearance on "Face the Nation" last week. 

Chinese ambassador dismisses coronavirus theo... 08:10

"We have offered that, we've offered the Chinese the opportunity to have American doctors from the CDC and other experts come to China to help them, but that offer has not been accepted this point. But that's an outstanding offer," O'Brien explained.  

Other notable moments from Brennan's conversation with O'Brien:

Lt. Col. Vindman's ouster:

In that same conversation, Brennan pressed O'Brien on the ousting of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman who was up until last week, detailed to O'Brien's National Security Council. Vindman was escorted from the White House on Friday, according to his attorneys, for what many believed to be retaliation for his public testimony against President Trump in the impeachment process. 

O'Brien notably addressed the issue of retaliation during his previous appearance on "Face the Nation" saying any movement in assigned detail would purely be due to a "streamlining" of the NSC and not out of political retribution.   

"Their services were no longer needed," O'Brien said Tuesday. "They weren't fired," he added of Vindman and his brother Yevgeny's departure from the NSC. "I can absolutely tell you they weren't retaliated against."

Afghanistan talks:

"Some good news could be forthcoming," O'Brien said of talks with Taliban leadership. "There will have to be reduction in violence and meaningful inter-Afghan talks," he added. 

When pressed on reports of a promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan as part of Taliban negotiations, O'Brien responded: "I don't think there's any imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan."


As the United Nations released estimates of upwards of 689,000 men, women and children having been displaced from their homes in northwest Syria since the start of December, Brennan pressed O'Brien on why the Trump administration was not actively intervening to stop the assault on Idlib. 

O'Brien responded: "The idea that America must do something,  I don't even see that as being a real argument. So you've got Russian and Iranian and Syrian troops attacking Turks and and their allies- and by the way, they're terrorists in Idlib as well. And what are we supposed to do to stop that? We're supposed to parachute in as a global policeman and hold up a stop sign and say, Stop this Turkey! Stop this, Russia! Stop this, Iran! Stop this, Syria."

He added,  "But, you know, we bought him a year with one tweet. That's pretty impressive and we're gonna continue to decry any sort of attack on civilians and civilian casualties and refugees in Syria has been a terror- as you point out, it's been a horrific civil war. But I don't think we're gonna intervene militarily in Idlib to try and straighten out that bad situation."

O'Brien's comment appear to diverge from efforts being made by other parts of the administration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Russia and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's forces and said the US would 'stand by' its NATO ally Turkey at the start of this month, and US envoy for Syria Ambassador James Jeffrey is set to meet Turkish officials in Ankara to discuss working together toward a political solution.

Camilla Schick contributed reporting

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    Emily Tillett is the digital producer at "Face the Nation"