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Pompeo Touts U.S. Foreign Help Against Pandemic As Trump Threatens WHO Funding


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses a news conference at the State Department in Washington on April 7.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States will lead the world in providing foreign assistance to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, even as some allies have expressed concerns over Washington's tactics to acquire equipment for its own needs and its failure to ease sanctions during the pandemic.

Pompeo's comments also come a day after President Donald Trump said he may cut funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) for what he called its slow response to the coronavirus outbreak. WHO, a specialized United Nations agency, coordinates responses to health emergencies.

"There is no country in the world that will provide as much aid and assistance through multiple forms as the United States of America will," Pompeo said on a call with European media on April 8.

"The full range of American capabilities and leadership will be on display as the world moves out of the crisis."

The United States has been hit hard by COVID-19, with registered cases skyrocketing in a matter of weeks past 400,000, more than double any country in Europe.

The spike -- combined with what critics say was a slow response by the Trump administration -- has resulted in a shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment at U.S. hospitals. That has forced the administration to scour the Earth for additional supplies, sometimes putting it in competition with allies.

Berlin on April 4 accused Washington of diverting 200,000 face masks bound for Germany from Thailand to the United States.

Berlin Secretary of Interior Andreas Geisel called it an "act of modern piracy."

Washington denied knowing anything about it.

Meanwhile, China and Russia have stepped in to deliver needed equipment to Europe and the United States, scoring propaganda victories much publicized both at home and abroad, analysts say.

Trump on April 7 called WHO very "China-centric" and said he would look "very carefully" at U.S. funding for the organization. The United States is the largest contributor to WHO, while many U.S. organizations and individuals also contribute.

Pompeo declined to comment on whether Washington would contribute to the $30 million fund the WHO and the UN are seeking to set up to help Ukraine deal with the coronavirus, though he said the United States supported International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending for the country.

Nonetheless, shortly before the April 8 call, Pompeo's office announced the United States would contribute another $225 million in global assistance to battle the virus on top of nearly $275 million already announced.

Pompeo's office said the United States was coordinating with other countries to determine where the assistance is most needed. He also said the United States would step up support for Europe, especially Italy, which has registered the most deaths to date, with more than 17,000.

"We will continue to provide assistance and we will announce more direct assistance to Italy. I think that will be very significant and other countries won’t be able to match that," he said.

He also said U.S. nongovernmental organizations, religious organizations, and private businesses were contributing to efforts around the world. His office put the figure at more than $1.5 billion.

Hiding The Truth

Pompeo said authoritarian regimes were hindering the fight against coronavirus by not sharing accurate information about the number of people infected and how cases are developing.

China claims to have just under 83,000 cases of COVID-19 -- a number that has barely moved over the past month -- and just 3,200 deaths, even as unconfirmed reports emerge that as many as 40,000 people may have died in Wuhan alone, the Chinese city where the virus originated.

Some doctors in Russia say the government is also suppressing the actual number of cases. Russia had a spike in pneumonia cases earlier this year, raising suspicion that the number of cases of COVID-19 is actually much greater. Patients with severe cases of COVID-19 develop pneumonia-like symptoms.

"It is the autocracies that lack the transparency and openness that have generated many of the challenges that we are facing in this crisis and it is the democratic ideas of the free press and open innovation and transparency -- those underpinnings that the United States and West and Europe share -- which will lead the world back," he said.

China did not initially let U.S. health experts into the country in the early phase of the outbreak. It also stifled local media and launched a propaganda campaign aimed at protecting the Communist Party from anger over its mishandling of COVID-19, Western media reported. China later expelled leading U.S. media.

Russia earlier this month passed a law that criminalizes the dissemination of knowingly false information about coronavirus, raising concerns the authorities will also use the law to target people exposing government cover ups.

Pompeo said government disinformation "puts people's lives at risk -- not only the lives of their own citizens but lives of citizens all across the world."

Sanctions Relief

Some countries and organizations have called for the United States to temporarily lift sanctions on nations to help them fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Pompeo dismissed the idea, saying U.S. sanctions do not block humanitarian aid and medical equipment from reaching sanctioned countries.

The United States has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran and Venezuela as well as a host of sanctions against Russia that have hurt its growth.

Pompeo expressed concern that Iranian leaders will use the lifting of sanctions to help themselves rather than their citizens.

"They are out searching for cash. And that cash if delivered to Iran, it won’t likely go to benefit the Iranian people, if history is any indicator," he said.

"It will instead go to corrupt officials who have a long history of diverting these funds that are allocated for humanitarian goods into their own pockets and into that of their terrorist proxies."

However, some critics say that banks and businesses are hesitant to transact in such goods with Iran because U.S. sanctions require extensive compliance and due diligence procedures.

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