GENEVA (AP) — The director-general of the World Health Organization has upbraided U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for making “untrue and unacceptable” allegations, responding to media reports saying Pompeo had claimed the health agency chief was “bought” by China.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted WHO was focusing on “saving lives” as he lashed out Thursday at the comments that British media said Pompeo had made at a closed-door event this week in London.
Tedros’ response to Pompeo represented some of his most defensive and full-throated statements yet in the wake of the Trump administration’s repeated criticism of the U.N. health agency in recent months.
British newspapers reported Wednesday that Pompeo said at the London event that Tedros had been “bought” by the Chinese government, an exceptionally personal comment against the WHO chief following the many broadsides against the agency from Washington.
Critics say the Trump administration has been trying to distract attention from its own failings in managing the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, which has the most confirmed cases and virus-related deaths in the world.
In recent months, the administration has repeatedly criticized WHO’s response to the pandemic and its alleged deference to Beijing. President Donald Trump has ordered the United States to withdraw next year from the agency it has bankrolled and supported for decades.
Pompeo was not asked about his reported comments at a news conference in Denmark on Wednesday. The Times of London reported before that appearance that Pompeo had told a gathering of British lawmakers that he had intelligence suggesting Tedros had been “bought” by China’s government and that his election as WHO chief in 2017 had led to the death of British nationals.
“The comments were done, I think on Tuesday — last Tuesday. And the comments are untrue and unacceptable, and without any foundation for that matter,” Tedros told reporters in Geneva. “If there is one thing that really matters to us and which should matter to the entire international community, it’s saving lives. And WHO will not be distracted by these comments.”