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Trump warns WHO has to ‘clean up their act’ or US won’t ‘be involved with them’

U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with restaurant executives in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, May 18, 2020.

Doug Mills | The New York Times | Getty Images

President Donald Trump issued a warning Tuesday to the World Health Organization, saying the international agency needs to “clean up” its act or the United States won’t “be involved with them anymore.”

The WHO has “to do a better job,” Trump told reporters during a White House meeting about American farmers. “They have to be much more fair to other countries, including the United States, or we are not going to be involved with them anymore. We will do it a separate way.”

Trump has repeatedly criticized the WHO’s response to the coronavirus, which has hit the U.S. worse than any other country in the world, amid scrutiny of his own administration’s response to the pandemic.

The president threatened to permanently cut off U.S. funding of the WHO, in a letter dated Monday that he shared on Twitter.

He said that if the WHO “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.”

Trump’s letter also repeats growing scrutiny over how the WHO handled information reported by China, where the virus first emerged. The president previously accused the agency of being “China-centric.”

“The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China … 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,” the letter said.

Meanwhile, the WHO has defended its initial response to the pandemic, saying it gave world leaders enough time to intervene early in the outbreak.

The agency declared Covid-19 a global health emergency on Jan. 30 when there were only 82 cases outside of China and zero deaths, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference on May 1. “Meaning, the world had enough time to intervene.”

The WHO started sounding the alarm on the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China in mid-January. On March 11, WHO officials declared the outbreak a pandemic, when there were just 121,000 global cases. 

In a statement to CNBC on Tuesday, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said, “WHO acknowledges receipt of the letter from the President of the United States. We are considering the contents of the letter.”

— CNBC’s Christine Wang contributed to this report. 

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