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The Trump administration is touting its $1.4 billion export control penalty against ZTE Corp. as a severe blow to the Chinese telecom giant, but attorneys say that the political maneuvering surrounding the company calls the president's commitment to tough sanctions enforcement into question.

Ashley Craig told Law360 on June 7, 2018, "The message seems to be that trade policy — something that has been removed from enforcement of export controls enforcement and sanctions — is not very much a factor that may influence a White House's decision-making."

If the administration never quite closes the door on potential relief for sanctions violators, it could create unintended chaos within the market, even for those who are fully complying with sanctions and export control laws, according to Craig.

"Does this mean that once a company is placed on the U.S. watchlists, U.S. companies that have done business with them should factor into consideration a possible 'reconsideration' by the administration — and what will that mean for commercial dealings, logistics, planning, etc.?" he said.