Trump administration continues its process of unraveling ties with the WHO

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World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters on March 11, 2020 in Geneva.

Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration outlined on Wednesday the next steps it will take as the U.S. withdraws from the World Health Organization, a convoluted process that will take at least a year to complete. 

“The position of the White House is that the WHO needs to reform and that is starting with demonstrating its independence from the Chinese Communist Party,” explained Nerissa Cook, deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs.

“We are advocating for greater transparency and greater accountability and we want to see speedier and higher quality of communications,” Cook said, adding that the administration wants “to see very strong management and focus on the prevention and detection and response to pandemics.”

Cook added that the U.S. could still reconsider its position of withdrawing from the WHO if the administration finds that the organization made enough reforms.

The WHO did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

One step the administration has taken is to unravel its financial ties by reprogramming millions of dollars. The United States is understood to be the largest funder to the WHO.

“Right now the Department is in the process of notifying Congress of the reprogramming of the funds,” Cook said, without providing additional details. 

The latest revelation comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s decision to not participate in the WHO-led coronavirus vaccine effort. The Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, or COVAX, initiative includes more than 170 nations and is aimed at “working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo downplayed concerns on Wednesday that the United States’ absence from the initiative would be detrimental to global health. 

“There is no nation that has been more willing and as deeply committed to delivering vaccines all around the world as the United States of America,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “We will dwarf every nation in terms of the financial resources,” he added.

In April, Trump said that he had suspended U.S. funding to the organization pending a review, citing what he called “the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”

A month later, he announced his intentions to leave the organization amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing what he called the WHO’s misuse of funding and its cozy relationship with China.

“China has total control over the World Health Organization, despite only paying $40 million per year compared to what the United States has been paying, which is approximately $450 million a year,” Trump explained during remarks in the Rose Garden.

In July, the Trump administration submitted to the U.N. secretary-general its notice to withdraw from the World Health Organization by July 6, 2021.

The notice to the United Nations was the first step in a yearlong process that will rely on several factors outside of Trump’s control, including cooperation from Congress and the president’s own reelection in November, neither of which are assured.

The Trump administration’s move to withdraw from the WHO comes as coronavirus cases reach nearly 6.07 million in the United States, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Worldwide, the virus has infected about 25.7 million and killed more than 857,800. At least 184,600 have died in the U.S. alone. 

Last month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he hopes the United States will reconsider its decision to leave the United Nations’ health organization, adding that the coronavirus can’t be defeated “in a divided world.” 

“The problem is not about the money. It’s not the financing that’s the issue. It’s actually the relationship with the U.S. that’s more important and its leadership abroad,” Ghebreyesus told a virtual audience at the Aspen Security Forum. 

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has previously said that he would have the U.S. rejoin the WHO on day one of his presidency, were he to defeat Trump this November.

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