President Trump said the U.S. will stop funding to the World Health Organization while his administration reviews its role in “mismanaging” the coronavirus.
He said the U.S. contributes up to $400 million while superpowers like China, where the outbreak began, contribute closer to $40 million.
“The United States has a duty to insist on full accountability,” Mr. Trump said.
He cited the WHO’s lack of pushback to Beijing’s foggy reporting on the virus in the early going, saying it cost the rest of the world valuable time.
He also blasted the WHO’s opposition to bans on travel from China, accusing it of putting “political correctness above life-saving measures.”
“Countless more lives would have been saved. Instead, look at the rest of the world,” he said, citing the rampant spread of the virus in Europe.
He said U.S. funding wasn’t put to good use and the WHO failed to vet and share information in a timely fashion.
Mr. Trump said the freeze will last 60 to 90 days and should have been done by previous administrations.
“This is an evaluation period,” Mr. Trump said.
He said he will channel the money to the areas that most need it.
The president also accused the WHO of failing to contain samples of the virus from China and getting a team into the source country, though WHO ultimately did get a team in with cooperation from Beijing.
Mr. Trump’s decision to cut off funding to the public health arm of the U.N. in the middle of a pandemic is sure to raise eyebrows, though the president may resume funding after sending “powerful letters” to the organization and discussing it with other nations.
The WHO, based in Switzerland, is considered the world leader in public health emergencies, such as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has been nearly stamped out amid violent conditions.
Mr. Trump frequently criticizes multilateral organizations that cost plenty of U.S. money. Yet even as he accuses the WHO of being “China-centric,” he’s been reluctant to attack Chinese President Xi Jinping, who controls the centralized communist government in Beijing.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi struck a phase-one trade deal earlier this year and were set to negotiate phase two when the pandemic hit.
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!” Mr. Trump tweeted Jan. 24, as the virus swamped the city of Wuhan.
Mr. Trump responded to a question about his praise indirectly, pointing to his trade deal and the need for Mr. Xi to live up to it.
One week later, Mr. Trump decided to ban foreign nationals who’d been in China over the past 14 days from entering the U.S.
The president said his move prevented a far worse outbreak, though critics say he squandered that time by failing to set up a robust diagnostics program and supply chain during February.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, said “multiple failures” at the national and international level led to the problems the U.S. is facing now. But he said America needs to keep its seat at the table in global talks.
“It’s crucial that the United States is at the center of the discussion, not on the sidelines, as the international community determines what path the World Health Organization (WHO) takes moving forward. Cutting back on America’s support and involvement will mean that the United States does not have a full seat at the table during these discussions, and will only magnify the already troubling influence of China at the WHO,” he said.
“Additionally, the activities that are most needed right now to reopen society — global disease surveillance, information sharing, and technical assistance for testing and contact tracing — are exactly the activities that the WHO exists to help coordinate,” he added. “Backing away from the WHO at this moment will inflict great damage on the United States, as well as the international community.”