WHITE HOUSE - The United States is "holding back" funding to the World Health Organization, according to U.S. President Donald Trump, who said the WHO "got it wrong" about the advance of COVID-19.
Trump and members of his administration accuse the international agency of having a bias in favor of China, where the coronavirus was first reported.
"It hasn't accomplished what it was intended to deliver," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alongside Trump at the Wednesday briefing by the White House coronavirus task force. "We're reevaluating our funding" with respect to the WHO.
Trump said the government would conduct a study about the organization before deciding on future funding for it, which from Washington totals hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
It was the second consecutive day the president attacked the WHO and threatened its funding from the United States, which is the largest contributor to the specialized agency of the United Nations.
Officials at the U.N. and WHO pushed back on Trump's threat.
"It is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities," said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis."
"The lessons learned will be essential to effectively address similar challenges, as they may arise in the future. But now is not that time," added Guterres in a statement Wednesday. "Now is the time for unity, for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences."
"Please don't politicize this virus," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during an emotional briefing in Geneva when he was asked about Trump's remark. "If you don't want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it."
Tedros held talks Wednesday with French President Emmanuel Macron who expressed his support for the WHO.
A French presidential official said Macron reaffirmed his belief that the organization is key to responding to the pandemic, and that it should not be locked in a battle between the United States and China.
Some U.S. cable networks have stopped airing the full daily White House coronavirus task force briefings, cutting in and out of live coverage, having made that decision because of the frequent political nature of some of the president's comments.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump criticized that approach to the briefings in a tweet, saying "Radical Left Democrats" had tried to shame "the Fake News Media into not covering them, but that effort failed because the ratings are through the roof...."
The president, a former host of a reality television program, described viewership as on the level of "Monday Night Football" and the finale of "The Bachelor."
That comparison generated criticism.
"It takes a certain twisted mind to take pleasure in the fact that more people are watching him because more people are dying," tweeted a Clinton-era White House press secretary, Joe Lockhart. "It doesn't even matter that most people who are watching are throwing things at the TV and his ratings for handling the crisis are plummeting."
The number of U.S. deaths from the virus has topped 14,000 - more than 4,500 of them in New York City. Across the country, 430,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, by far the most of any nation.
Government officials have said they expect the pandemic to possibly peak this week in the United States.
"We are in the midst of a week of heartache," Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the coronavirus task force, said at the close of Wednesday's briefing.