US President Donald Trump has said he has instructed his administration to halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO).
He said the WHO had “failed in its basic duty” in its response to the coronavirus outbreak.
He accused the UN body of mismanaging and covering up the spread of the virus after it emerged in China, and said it must be held accountable.
Mr Trump has previously accused the WHO of being biased towards China.
The US president has himself come under criticism at home over his handling of the outbreak.
“I am directing my administration to halt funding while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Mr Trump told a news conference at the White House.
“The WHO failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable,” he added.
America is the WHO’s biggest single funder, providing $400m (£316m) last year – just under 15% of its total budget.
“With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible,” the president said.
The US is the worst-affected country in the coronavirus pandemic with 592,743 cases and 25,239 deaths.
President Trump accused the WHO of having failed to adequately assess the outbreak when it first emerged in the city of Wuhan.
“Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China’s lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death,” he told reporters.
“This would have saved thousands of lives and avoided worldwide economic damage. Instead, the WHO willingly took China’s assurances to face value… and defended the actions of the Chinese government.”
Correspondents have pointed out, however, that Mr Trump himself praised China’s response to the outbreak and downplayed the danger of the virus at home.
What about the lockdowns?
Speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House, President Trump also said that plans to reopen the country were “close to being finalised”.
“I will be speaking to all 50 governors very shortly and I will be authorising each individual governor of each individual state to implement a plan,” he said.
“The federal government will be watching them closely. We will hold governors accountable, but will be working with them to make sure it goes really well.”
Mr Trump caused a furore on Monday when he said that he, and not state governors, had the authority to lift lockdowns and restart the economy.
Experts agree it is the governors who are responsible for policing their states under US law.
Earlier on Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo accused President Trump of “spoiling for a fight”.
New York state has the most cases, with almost 190,000 cases and over 10,000 deaths. However, there are signs of improvement with the number of people there needing hospital treatment falling for the first time.
Trump targets China’s growing influence
At one level, this move is about the coronavirus. Administration officials have been sharply accusing the WHO of missteps in the handling of the pandemic, saying it was biased towards China.
They say the WHO was too ready to support China’s deceptive early claims about the virus and then didn’t push hard enough against Beijing’s attempts to cover up its misinformation. In particular President Trump has latched onto the WHO’s criticism of his travel restrictions against China.
But at another level, this move is part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to curtail China’s growing global influence, especially in international organisations.
The Wall Street journal reports that the decision stems from an ongoing discussion on whether to link US aid dollars to the number of Americans working in the groups that receive them.
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