By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of 15 U.S. senators urged the Commerce Department to suspend issuing licenses to U.S. firms that conduct business with China's Huawei Technologies Co, saying it could threaten U.S. security.
In a letter on Thursday to President Donald Trump, the senators said the administration should halt issuing licenses until the administration provides Congress "a report outlining specific criteria for determining whether or not the approval of any license poses a national security threat."
The Trump administration on Wednesday said it had begun issuing licenses to allow some suppliers to restart sales to the Chinese telecoms giant after it was placed on a trade blacklist because of national security concerns six months ago.
A U.S. official said on Wednesday that of roughly 300 licence requests, about half have been processed, with roughly half of those – or one-quarter – approved and another quarter have received notices of intent to deny.
The letter, which was signed by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senator Tom Cotton and provided to Reuters, demands congressional leaders "be notified prior to the issuance of any licenses to U.S. firms to sell components to Huawei and its affiliates."
It was also signed by Republicans Ben Sasse, John Cornyn, Josh Hawley and Rick Scott and Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Ron Wyden and Cory Booker.
The letter warned the licenses will allow "Huawei to continue to pose a serious threat to U.S. telecommunications infrastructure and national security more broadly."
The White House declined to comment. A Commerce Department spokesman said the agency was "issuing these narrow licenses to authorize limited and specific activities which do not pose a significant risk to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States."
The department added that the licences "were approved through an interagency license review process" that included Commerce, Defense, State and Energy department officials.
The licence approvals came after the department renewed the so-called temporary general licence for the company for a third time on Monday, extending permission for Huawei to engage in limited transactions to assist U.S. rural network operators.
The Trump administration put Huawei on a trade blacklist, citing national security concerns, in May after trade talks with China broke down. Companies on the list are not allowed to receive shipments of U.S. goods without a special licence from the Commerce Department.
The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote on Friday to designate Huawei and ZTE Corp national security risks, barring U.S. rural carriers from tapping an $8.5 billion government fund to purchase equipment or services from them. The FCC also plans to propose requiring those carriers to remove and replace equipment from such designated companies.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler)