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US objects to UN resolution on virus in dispute with China

May 9, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2019 file photo, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends the UNHCR - Global Refugee Forum at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. When financial markets collapsed and the world faced its last great crisis in 2008, major powers worked together to restore the global economy, but the COVID-19 pandemic has been striking for the opposite response. The financial crisis gave birth to the leaders’ summit of the Group of 20, the world’s richest countries responsible for 80% of the global economy. But when Guterres proposed ahead of their summit in late March that G-20 leaders adopt a “wartime” plan and cooperate on the global response to suppress the virus, there was no response (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2019 file photo, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends the UNHCR - Global Refugee Forum at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. When financial markets collapsed and the world faced its last great crisis in 2008, major powers worked together to restore the global economy, but the COVID-19 pandemic has been striking for the opposite response. The financial crisis gave birth to the leaders’ summit of the Group of 20, the world’s richest countries responsible for 80% of the global economy. But when Guterres proposed ahead of their summit in late March that G-20 leaders adopt a “wartime” plan and cooperate on the global response to suppress the virus, there was no response (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States on Friday objected to a proposed U.N. resolution on the coronavirus pandemic after diplomats said it had agreed to compromise language with China that didn’t directly mention the World Health Organization, an issue of growing dispute between the world’s two major economic powers.

The U.S. objection to the Security Council resolution drafted by France and Tunisia reflects rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.

It also leaves the U.N.’s most powerful body impotent on reacting to the greatest crisis facing the world — and unable to back Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ March 23 call for global cease-fires to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, which diplomats said all 15 Security Council members agree on and is the main point of the resolution.

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But the United States and China, both veto-wielding permanent council members, have been at odds for almost seven weeks over including a reference to the World Health Organization.

President Donald Trump suspended U.S. funding to the WHO in early April, accusing the U.N. health agency of failing to stop the virus from spreading when it first surfaced in China. He said it “must be held accountable,” accusing the WHO of parroting Beijing.

China strongly supports the WHO and insisted the agency’s role in tackling the pandemic be included in any resolution, diplomats said. The U.S. insisted on making no mention of the WHO and including a reference to “transparency” on COVID-19, which China opposed.

The French-Tunisian draft resolution that was reportedly agreed on Thursday night by both countries and sent to all council members for any objections before 2 p.m. EDT Friday included what diplomats believed was compromise language acceptable to both countries.

Without mentioning the WHO, the proposed resolution would have emphasized “the urgent need to support all countries, as well as all relevant entities of the United Nations system, including specialized health agencies, and other relevant international, regional, and sub-regional organizations, in line with their respective mandates, to enhance coordination and assist in the global fight against COVID-19.”

There is also no direct reference to “transparency,” but Guterres has called for transparency in the coronavirus crisis, and the draft resolution would welcome “all efforts and measures proposed by the secretary-general concerning the response to the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to conflict-affected countries, in particular his appeal for an immediate global ceasefire.”

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Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions on the resolution have been private, said senior U.S. officials objected to the agreed text and blocked its approval.

A U.S. State Department official blamed China on Friday for repeatedly blocking compromises “that would have allowed the council to move forward,” saying it is insisting on using the resolution “to advance false narratives about its response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.”

The goal of the resolution should be support for the secretary-general’s call for a cease-fire, the official said, and “in our view, the council should either proceed with a resolution limited to support for a cease-fire, or a broadened resolution that fully addresses the need for renewed member state commitment to transparency and accountability in the context of COVID-19.”

The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. and other council members indicated negotiations will continue.

The draft resolution demands immediate cease-fires in major conflicts that are on the Security Council agenda, from Syria and Yemen to Libya, South Sudan and Congo, and calls for all parties to armed conflicts “to engage immediately in a durable humanitarian pause” for at least 90 days to deliver aid.

The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, says these measures do not apply to military operations against the Islamic State and al-Qaida extremist groups and their affiliates.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country is on the Security Council, told an informal council meeting on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe that the council’s “silence on today’s most pressing challenge — the fight against the COVID pandemic — is deafening.”

“So, on this historic date, let us finally unite behind the secretary-general’s call for a global cease-fire,” Maas said.

France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who also addressed the council meeting by video, said that “because the coronavirus crisis is also a threat to our collective security, we should, without further delay, give clear support to the secretary-general’s call for a humanitarian truce in all armed conflicts and quickly adopt the draft resolution put forward by France and Tunisia.”

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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