Trump threatens permanent freeze on WHO funding without ‘major’ reforms within 30 days
President Trump on Monday threatened to permanently halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) if the body does not commit to “major substantive improvements” in the next 30 days.
The president, in a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, levied a series of allegations that the global health entity overlooked or ignored various warning signs about the coronavirus and criticized its stance toward China during the pandemic.
“We do not have time to waste,” he wrote. “That is why it is my duty, as President of the United States, to inform you that, if the World Health Organization does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization.”
“I cannot allow American taxpayer dollars to continue to finance an organization that, in its present state, is so clearly not serving America’s interests,” he added.
This is the letter sent to Dr. Tedros of the World Health Organization. It is self-explanatory! pic.twitter.com/pF2kzPUpDv
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2020
The Trump administration is already in touch with the WHO about desired reforms, the president wrote, but he did not specify what those reforms would be other than to say they would have to be made.
The president’s letter, which he tweeted late Monday night, raised more than a dozen specific instances where he argued the WHO had either missed warning signs of the coronavirus outbreak or offered praise for China.
Trump criticized the WHO for praising China’s domestic travel restrictions but later questioning his administration’s international travel restrictions. The president also cited the WHO’s assertion in January that the virus could not be spread through human-to-human transmission.
“Throughout this crisis the World Health Organization has been curiously insistent on praising China for its alleged ‘transparency,’ ” Trump wrote, an ironic criticism given Trump also praised China and its president for their transparency in a Jan. 24 tweet.
The president has turned the WHO into a frequent target for criticism as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the U.S., infecting more than 1.5 million people in the country and killing more than 90,000 as of Monday night.
“It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world,” Trump wrote in Monday’s letter. “The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China.”
The U.S. accounted for roughly 20 percent of the WHO’s total budget in the past two years, significantly more than other countries. That has been a particular point of tension for Trump, who has long been skeptical of outsized U.S. contributions to international organizations.
Trump first announced on April 14 that his administration would pause funding for the WHO pending a review of the entity’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Critics have questioned the timing of the move, given the WHO is one of only a few global bodies working to combat the pandemic.
Tedros earlier Monday said he would support an independent review of the global response to the coronavirus as the U.S. and other Western governments ratchet up pressure on China to be more transparent in what it knew and when it knew it about the virus.
“I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned, and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response,” Tedros said. “To be truly comprehensive, such an evaluation must encompass the entirety of the response by all actors, in good faith.”
China first alerted the WHO to the presence of a cluster of atypical pneumonia in the city of Wuhan on Dec. 31, after the WHO picked up reports through its epidemic intelligence system. But there is evidence to indicate the virus was circulating in Wuhan as early as mid-November.