Briefing With Senior Administration Official and Senior State Department Official On U.S. Global Leadership in the International COVID-19 Response
Office of the Spokesperson
May 4, 2020
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The United States and President Trump are leading the global effort to combat this pandemic. The United States is the single-largest health and humanitarian donor in the world, and the American people have continued that legacy of generosity in the global fight against COVID-19.
The U.S. is leading international coordination on the global fight against COVID-19 through the G7 presidency – mobilizing unprecedented international coordination across health, finance, humanitarian assistance, science, and technology sectors to save lives, restore economic growth, protect jobs, and support global trade and investment.
Under U.S. leadership, G7 countries are coordinating a comprehensive global response to the pandemic that includes intensifying efforts to stabilize the global economy and to create the environment for sustained economic recovery and growth.
To best address the unique and urgent challenges posed by COVID-19, President Trump has taken the unprecedented step of convening regular, virtual meetings with G7 leaders and ministers since the start of the crisis to drive forward our collective response, including weekly meetings of G7 health ministers. The United States is also leading G7 coordination efforts in critical tracks including the G7 foreign ministers, finance ministers, central bank governors, and science and technology officials to help ensure all G7 countries are using the tools available in a coordinated response to this crisis.
The United States is the single-largest health and humanitarian donor in the world, and we continue to be the most generous, transparent, and reliable international partner for health and humanitarian aid. The United States is coordinating with other G7 countries to provide significant assistance to vulnerable countries to stem the tide of the virus and improve public health response, coordination, capacity, and resilience around the world.
As the G7 president, we continue to coordinate closely with the G20, led this year under its presidency of Saudi Arabia, to ensure that the substantial U.S. funding and scientific efforts on this front remain a central and coordinated part of the worldwide effort against COVID-19.
A global pandemic requires a global response. As the global leader in providing foreign assistance to combat COVID-19, the United States welcomes other high-quality, transparent contributions from donors all over the world to join the fight against this pandemic. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. So we'll take your questions. I think we have Matt Lee first. Please open his line.
QUESTION: Hello? Hello?
MODERATOR: Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Good morning. Hey. Thanks a lot. I – I'm struck by the kind of defensive nature of this call and your guys' presentation. Why is it you feel the need to come out and repeat all these figures? Which are impressive, but I'm just curious as to why that. And also what the logic or the administration's thinking was behind not attending this – or not sending anyone, or even having someone virtually speak to this major international COVID-19 conference that the EU has put on today. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, Matt, this is [Senior Administration Official]. I'll just have a couple comments. The United States is in the process of providing $2.4 billion in global health, humanitarian, and economic assistance towards the COVID-19 response, and we continue to ensure that the substantial U.S. funding and scientific efforts on this front remain an essential and coordinated part of this worldwide effort against COVID-19.
As the global leader in COVID-19 foreign assistance, we welcome EU efforts to secure pledges for additional contributions to combat this pandemic. Many of the organizations and programs this pledging conference seeks to support already received very significant funding and support from the U.S. Government and private sector, and we would welcome additional high quality, transparent contributions from others.
As I said previously, the United States is the single-largest health and humanitarian donor in the world, and the American people have continued that legacy of generosity in the global fight against COVID-19.
MODERATOR: Okay. For the next question, can you open the line of Michele Kelemen?
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Matt's question: So why didn't you take part today, and why didn't the U.S. take part in the G20 meeting in late April? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?
QUESTION: Yeah. I'm just wondering, following up on Matt's question, why you didn't take part in today's meeting, today's pledging conference, and why the U.S. did not send a representative to a G20 meeting in late April that was – was it just because it was organized by the WHO? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not aware of the G20 meeting that you're referencing, so would need additional detail before commenting on that. And with regard to the first part of your question, it's the same answer as I just gave. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. Can we go to the line of Barbara Usher?
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a few questions about funding for Yemen. So the UN warned last week that the WHO will likely have to scale back at least 80 percent of its operations in Yemen by today, largely because of the U.S. funding cut. And in the meantime, you have announced $1.7 million for COVID-related efforts in the Yemen, which is sort of less than 1 percent of what's needed. So how is that going to fill the gap? You were looking for – two, you were looking for other partners there. Have you found any? Is that anywhere close to being found? And three, Congress has appropriated $400 million for Yemen's stabilization; are you going to use it? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is [Senior State Department Official]. I can take some of these questions and turn it over to [Senior Administration Official] if he has more thoughts. Look, our commitment to Yemen is incredibly strong. Yemen has been a large recipient of U.S. foreign assistance over the past 20 years. The American people have invested over almost $4 billion into Yemen, and so I think it's really clear that we are committed to Yemen, and we are looking to continue to play a strong role.
The United States isn't the only donor to Yemen and there are a lot of other really great high-quality donors that we are looking to partner with in order to make sure that our assistance is effective. We absolutely have a tremendous number of partners around the world from other multilateral organizations like UNICEF and UNDP to faith-based organizations and contractors, and we are actively looking to – at all of these options to see how we can make sure that all of our assistance is hitting the mark and is getting the job done around the world, including in Yemen.
MODERATOR: Okay. For our next question, can we go to the line of Jacob Fromer?
QUESTION: Hi. I have a question about North Korea. I've been hearing that North Korea is accepting some COVID-19 aid from other countries but is explicitly rejecting it from the U.S. So I just wanted to know: Is that true, and if it is true, how is that being communicated to the U.S. and why wouldn't they want American help? The U.S. is giving so much money. Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is [Senior State Department Official] again. I will say that, obviously, President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have offered Korea assistance. In terms of specifics about whether assistance is being accepted or not, we'll have to take that back and get you a better answer.
MODERATOR: Okay. For the next question, can we go to the line of Nick Schifrin?
QUESTION: Sorry to beat a dead horse, but I got to go back to the vaccine conference again. The Chinese are participating; the British, who give hundreds of millions of dollars to these organizations and the vaccine fight, are participating. Why is it that because the U.S. already gives money to these organizations and the fight for a vaccine can there not be a U.S. participant today? And if I could also ask about the programs that the State Department and USAID have had in the past working with the lab in Wuhan. I understand that the PREDICT program has been replaced by the STOP Spillover program, but if you could just engage on why the PREDICT program was stopped before the STOP Spillover program was able to get going. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior State Department Official], you want to –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can take the – yeah, I'll take the second part of that question, and I'll leave the hard questions about the vaccine conference to [Senior Administration Official].
So the PREDICT program, so this really is a question for USAID, so I'd defer all the logistics to them. The way I understand it, the PREDICT program was already scheduled to come to a conclusion, and actually it has been extended a little bit past its natural end time, and there is a new program coming up. So there is nothing unusual or strange. It's simply is a switch of approaches and contractors in its normal lifecycle. So it's a really important program and we're really looking forward to the follow-on to be even more impactful, and that's just how foreign assistance programs run – right – we're constantly reevaluating, making sure that we're constantly improving. We can't simply rely on the way that things have always happened. And – but this is just a natural course of action, but more details on the new program. Happy to get you in touch with USAID to provide those details. Over.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, Nick. This is [Senior Administration Official]. I would just add that our cooperation with European partners continues to be extremely robust, as it is with partners around the world. President Trump has led over 50 calls of world leaders and multiple G7 and G20 multilateral engagements in the last two months alone to coordinate on efforts and provide offers of assistance.
We, as I said, support this pledging effort by the EU. It's one of many pledging efforts that are going on, and the United States is at the lead, really at the forefront of those international efforts with an incredibly robust ramp-up effort that's begun here in the United States. So we'll continue to partner very closely with our European allies, with our G20 partners, and lead through the G7 and really continue to have an extraordinarily robust response to the global COVID-19 efforts. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay, next can we open the line of Humeyra Pamuk, Reuters?
OPERATOR: One moment, please. I am not seeing that line in queue. Just one second, please. I apologize, I'm not seeing that line in queue.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let's move on to the line of Christina Ruffini. We'll circle back.
QUESTION: – ability to answer questions four times and not actually answer the question. So I think what we're trying to get at is if you are partnering with the EU, and if you support this funding effort, can you say without quoting statistics at us or talking around it why the U.S. decided not to send someone to this conference today? It's not a difficult question. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I've provided the answer. Thank you.
QUESTION: You have not provided the answer, which is why we've asked it four times.
MODERATOR: Moving onto the next question, Penny Starr.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) taking my call. You noted the United States has donated 3.2 billion to the World Health Organization. Is that past contributions and what is going to be happening going forward with the news that the Trump administration wants to look into (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, no, I appreciate the – this is [Senior State Department Official]. So the WHO question – so over the past 20 years, we've contributed over $5 billion to the WHO. The past 10, that number has been 3.2, and last year we contributed almost $400 million. So, so far the U.S. has used the WHO as an implementing partner around the world for about $40 million of our assistance. So what the President saw was that WHO was – is – it was not being an accountable, transparent partner, and as such it's really important for us to make sure when you do foreign assistance that you always look at who is the best partner in order to get the job done. So we always are looking at – you have a challenge, say in Yemen – how do we make sure that we are looking for the right multilateral or NGO or contractor to get the job done? The President has rightfully said that the WHO is not – has concerns about the WHO, and that's what this review is about. And so right now we are using different multilateral organizations with UNICEF or UNDP, as I talked about, or other NGOs, or as – NGOs, and there are a tremendous amount of NGOs around the world.
The WHO is actually a fairly small implementing partner for the United States. We give $18-20 billion worth of health and humanitarian assistance nearly every year – every year. And so with the WHO receiving 400 million of that, I mean, that's like two percent of our total health and humanitarian assistance going through the WHO to implement our programs. So it is – it's an incredibly – a really important thing for us to make sure that we have the right partner at the right time to accomplish the mission, and we are doing that. We are absolutely committed to making sure every dollar is well spent and well accounted for, and that's what we're continuing to do every day with our COVID resources and all the rest of our global health and humanitarian assistance resources.
MODERATOR: Great. I think we have time for one or two more, so let's go to the line of Rachel Oswald.
QUESTION: Hi. Just to circle back again, a lot of the things I've been hearing about the search for the vaccine effort is while getting funding is incredibly important, coordination at the highest levels of the most wealthy countries is equally important, and I think that's why there's so much concern about the absence of the U.S. from this EU and World Health Organization effort. If there's not coordination among the countries that are in the lead for the vaccine search, what happens once there is a vaccine if there is a fight over access? And what would that mean for the U.S. reputation? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is [Senior Administration Official]. I think I'd just make a couple points: One, the United States has led efforts with publishers and major technology companies to release free of charge over 52,000 machine-readable scientific articles on coronavirus, which is the largest collection in the world to date and which has now been viewed over a million times. Top experts around the world have downloaded the data set more than 54,000 times and have made over 1,000 openly available artificial intelligence tools to accelerate our research into vaccines, therapeutics, and other critical scientific questions. The United States is unleashing the world's most powerful supercomputers for coronavirus research through a public-private partnership with leading technology companies and universities. Through the partnership, more than 30 COVID-19 research projects from researchers around the nation and the world are currently underway, utilizing computing power and resources volunteered by consortium members.
I echo those points because there's really a tremendous amount of international coordination that is ongoing on vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic effort, so we have had an extraordinary ramp-up of international coordination, including through the G7 and the G20 and many other multilateral efforts. So that is something that is ongoing. We, as I said, are going to work very closely with European partners and others around the world and lead – continue to lead in that effort to achieve a robust response.
MODERATOR: Okay, for our last question let's go to the line of Lara Jakes.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask a little bit more about the WHO review. The acting USAID director a couple of weeks ago – maybe it was even last week – told reporters that this review had been ongoing even before the President's announcement – I think it was two weeks ago now – that the U.S. was going to be freezing funding. I'm wondering when that review actually began. What's the projected time for it to be done? And [Senior Administration Official], you – I believe it was you who just said that WHO – or maybe it was [Senior State Department Official] – gets about 2 percent of the annual funding. Is there any other larger – largest single donor or – of U.S. funding for health, research, and donations? Or is the WHO currently the single largest international organization? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So this is [Senior State Department Official]. So let me take that second part. So WHO is not – is not one of our – well, okay, let me back up. So when we look at – we use the WHO for voluntary contributions, so there's two pieces of our contributions to WHO. One is the assessed contributions. That pays for the salaries, the staff, the travel, the offices, really just sort of that piece, and the U.S. has contributed half of that money before the pause. And the second half isn't due until the end of the fiscal year, so that's largely unaffected. I mean, what we're really talking about is the voluntary contributions. And what is here ultimately is we are looking to do work in Malawi, for instance, and when we look to see how do we make sure that we are doing the types of things in Malawi that we need to do, whether it's strengthening health systems or providing crisis communications or proper messaging or whatever it is, we're looking at who is the right partner, our implementing partner, to spend our money in Malawi.
Historically, as I said, we used a combination of NGOs, from Samaritan's Purse to contractors like Chemonics or FHI 360, or use a multilateral organization like UNDP or UNICEF or even WHO. WHO is not a significant implementer of our health and humanitarian assistance. We give more resources to UNICEF and to several other multilateral organizations than we do to WHO, and a lot of our NGO partners and contractors also receive more of our assistance than WHO does. So it's a – it's something that we make sure that we are constantly re-evaluating on a regular basis to make sure that the American people get the best results for every dollar, and that's what we're continuing to do.
In terms of the WHO, the review started with the President making the announcement. The President was right to call for this pause. The pause, as the President said, is 60 to 90 days, and we'll look to the White House to have more information as the review continues to move on.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, everybody, for joining. Thanks to our briefers for taking the time out of their day to speak. And with this, this ends the call. Again, I should ask you pay particular attention to the attribution rules that were put out at the top, and now that we've reached the end of the call, the embargo is lifted. Thanks for joining, everyone.
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