Trump aides look to punish WHO

Aides to President Donald Trump are debating some potentially far-reaching moves to punish the World Health Organization in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, including cutting off U.S. funding and trying to create an alternative institution.

Officials have begun drafting a letter that — if the decision is made — will announce a suspension of U.S. funding to the WHO and a related body, the Pan American Health Organization, according to a person familiar with the issue. The draft document also tells officials at the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other institutions to try to route the money to existing alternative organizations.

Trump on Friday teased a forthcoming announcement about the WHO next week, hinting that his administration would place a hold on its funding to the global health body. But he did not go into details Friday, instead launching into a litany of complaints about how the WHO is allegedly too close to Beijing despite the U.S. being its top donor.

“As you know, we give them approximately $500 million a year,” he said, “and were going to be talking about that subject next week. Well have a lot to say about it. Well hold it.”

For now, some U.S. officials are urging caution, saying it will be more fruitful to try to reform the U.N. body through existing legal and political mechanisms. Some are concerned about undermining the WHO as it responds to a still-unfolding pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people so far. Any effort to rescind U.S. funding from the WHO is also likely to be met with fierce international blowback, including from some U.S. allies, and could strengthen Chinas influence on the organization.

“If youre going to accuse the WHO of being soft on China, you have to accuse them equally of being soft on the U.S.” — Jeremy Konyndyk, former disaster response official in Obama administration

The internal administration discussion comes as Trump and his supporters paint the WHO as partly responsible for the spread of the COVID-19 illness. The president has accused the WHO of being too “China centric,” while some Republican lawmakers have called for the ouster of the organizations leader. Several of the loudest anti-WHO voices are hawkish on China, and they allege that WHO leaders have been too timid in holding Beijing accountable for being slow to detail the extent of the outbreak that began on Chinese soil.

A spokesperson for the WHO said the organization had no comment.

It wasnt immediately clear how much funding could be on the chopping block. The United States gave more than $400 million to the WHO in 2019, according to the State Department. Its possible the U.S. could decide to suspend some of those dollars for certain functions while letting others flow. And its possible the U.S. could make funding decisions on a case-by-case basis if the situation is urgent and the WHO is the only choice to deliver whatever service is needed.

For now, however, the administration has told USAID, State and other agencies that send money to the WHO to obtain higher-level clearance before doing so, something critics say will slow down the funding process.

Andrew Bremberg, a U.S. ambassador who is based in Geneva and deals with the United Nations and other international organizations, is among those pushing hardest for reforming the WHO.

Bremberg has extensive health policy experience and previously directed Trumps Domestic Policy Council. Bremberg is skeptical of multilateral institutions, but at the same time hes well aware of how critical the WHOs vast global architecture is in trying to end the pandemic, which is only now starting to hit the poorest nations where the WHO is well-established.

Those pushing hardest for a suspension of funds or even a new alternative to the WHO are political appointees at the White House, including at the National Security Council, many of whom also happen to be hawkish on China, people familiar with the issue said.

According to two of the people, some of those aides have suggested modeling the alternative institution on UNAIDS, a U.N. body devoted to eradicating HIV/AIDS. That institution was set up in the mid-1990s amid widespread unhappiness with the WHOs handling of the AIDS epidemic. It wasnt clear exactly what in the structure of UNAIDS would make it appealing to Trump aides, and some analysts were flummoxed at the idea.

“WHO for the last 25 years has had some bad knocks,” said Stephen Morrison, a global health policy specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But it still remains the central entity for setting norms and standards and for guiding emergency response.”

Morrison argued that while at times the solutions to the frustrations with WHO have been to establish workarounds, like UNAIDS, the body itself can be reformed. In the wake of the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa, there was a lot of unhappiness with WHO, including from the Obama administration, he pointed out. That led to some helpful reforms of WHOs emergency response operations.

At the very least, Trump political appointees want to find ways to tweak international health regulations to incentivize WHO leaders to more quickly call out countries like China that are not being transparent nor quick to deliver information about health crises in their borders. Theres also a desire to make it easier for the WHO to declare a “public health emergency of international concern.”

The current WHO director-general, Ethiopias Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was elected to the role for a five-year term in 2017 in part due to support from China. Hes come under fierce criticism from Republican U.S. lawmakers and others for initially praising Chinas response to the coronavirus, among other steps.

Director-General of World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Defenders of Tedros, and more broadly the WHO, say hes being scapegoated by Republicans eager to deflect blame from Trump and his administration for their own slow response to the virus.

Further, they point out that the WHO is largely a technical body that operates at the mercy of member states and has limits on what it can say in public. Plus, they note, Tedros has to get along with the Chinese especially if he wants them to cooperate on ending the pandemic. Serious reforms to the WHOs authority will require other member states agreement, they note.

“Youre not going to have powerful countries in the world saying, Yes, please call us out on this — and that goes for the U.S., too,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former top Obama administration official involved in disaster response. He noted that the WHO hasnt slammed the Trump team for its slow response to the coronavirus, either.

“If youre going to accuse the WHO of being soft on China, you have to accuse them equally of being soft on the U.S.,” he said.

The State Department and USAID appear to be caught in the middle trying to balance competing impulRead More – Source

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