WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said a fundamental reform of the World Health Organization was needed following its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and that the United States, the WHO’s biggest donor, may never restore funding to the U.N. body.
As Pompeo launched fresh attacks on the U.N. body on Wednesday, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives accused the Trump administration of trying to “scapegoat” the WHO to distract from its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter to President Donald Trump, they called for the immediate restoration of U.S. funding, which Trump suspended last week accusing the WHO of being “China-centric” and of promoting China’s “disinformation” about the outbreak.
Pompeo told Fox News late on Wednesday there needed to be “a structural fix of the WHO” to correct its “shortcomings.”
Asked if he was not ruling out a change in leadership of the WHO, Pompeo replied: “Even more than that, it may be the case that the United States can never return to underwriting, having U.S. taxpayer dollars go to the WHO.”
The WHO has denied the Trump administration’s charges and China insists it has been transparent and open.
The United States has been the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing over $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget. Senior U.S. officials last week told Reuters Washington could redirect these funds to other aid groups.
Earlier on Wednesday, Pompeo said the United States “strongly believed” Beijing had failed to report the outbreak in a timely manner, in breach of World Health Organization rules, and that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom did not use his ability “to go public” when a member state failed to follow those rules.
Pompeo said the WHO had an obligation to ensure safety standards were observed in virology labs in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, and its director-general had “enormous authority with respect to nations that do not comply.”
The acting head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said on Wednesday the United States would assess if the WHO was being run properly and look for alternative partners outside the body.
The possibility of the U.S. ceasing its funding definitively to the global body is contingent upon Trump succeeding in his bid for re-election in the November presidential vote, against the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
The U.S. Congress controls federal spending, and could pass legislation to guarantee funding for the WHO. However, to become law it would need to garner enough support, including from Trump’s Republicans, not just to pass but to override a likely veto.
According to a Reuters tally, the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 180,000 people worldwide, including nearly 48,000 in the United States, making it the worst-hit country by official statistics.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Humeyra Pamuk and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernadette Baum