Washington (CNN)Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday a “handful” of State Department employees have tested positive for the coronavirus in the first official acknowledgement that his staff has been directly affected by the pandemic.
Pompeo stressed that the State Department continues its operations to serve American citizens abroad, even as he offered no details and some Americans report being unable to get assistance from embassies overseas.
“It’s not just about our officers serving in these distant places protecting themselves and our team, but making sure we’re doing the right thing by the American people,” he said, pointing to the State Department’s travel advisories.
Pompeo also focused on America’s geopolitical foes Iran and China in connection to the pandemic, claiming that Iran has been lying about the impact of the outbreak and, like China, has been falsely trying to blame the virus on the US.
Iranian leaders have “lied about the Wuhan virus for weeks, the Iranian leadership is trying to avoid responsibility for their … gross incompetence,” Pompeo said, speaking to reporters at the State Department.
Pompeo has repeatedly made a point of avoiding the virus’ formal name, choosing instead to refer to it as the “Wuhan coronavirus,” in an apparent attempt to emphasize the pandemic’s likely origins in China.
Speaking about Chinese leaders on Tuesday, Pompeo said, “the disinformation campaign that they are waging is designed to shift responsibility. Now is not the time for recrimination, now is the time to solve this global pandemic and work to take down risks to Americans and people all across the world.”
The pandemic has infected almost 180,000 people worldwide and killed more than 7,500 globally, according to the World Health Organization. At least 14,990 people Iran have been infected, the WHO said Tuesday.
Pompeo singled out Iran in his remarks, saying that, “the Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice,” he continued, adding that the US is “trying to offer help … we have an open humanitarian channel … even as our maximum pressure campaign denies terrorists money.”
‘An awfully long time’
The top US diplomat also focused on China’s role, suggesting that leadership in Beijing did not share information about the new virus as quickly as it should have.
“There will come a day when we will evaluate how the entire world responded,” Pompeo said, adding that China had a “special responsibility to rise the flag to say we have a problem and its different and unique.” He added that it “took an awful long time for the world to become aware” of what was happening in the country.
“Every nation has a responsibility to share all of their data, all of their information, in as timely and accurate a fashion as they have the ability to do not only because it is the right thing to do but it’s also how you save lives for your own people as well,” Pompeo said. “The Chinese Communist Party had a responsibility to do this, not only for Americans and Italians and South Koreans and Iranians who are now suffering, but for their own people as well.”
On Monday, Pompeo pushed back on Chinese attempts to blame the coronavirus pandemic on the US after a prominent Chinese official suggested the US military brought the virus to Wuhan when hundreds of military athletes were there for October’s Military World Games.
“Secretary Pompeo conveyed strong US objections to PRC efforts to shift blame for COVID-19 to the United States,” the State Department spokesperson said in a statement Monday. “The Secretary stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumors, but rather a time for all nations to come together to fight this common threat.”
President Donald Trump defended his use of the term “China virus”
to describe COVID-19 on Tuesday, saying he uses the term because China tried to blame its spread on the American military.
“I didn’t appreciate the fact that China was saying that our military gave it to them. Our military did not give it to anybody,” Trump said during a White House press briefing.
This story has been updated to add additional comments from Pompeo.
Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/17/politics/pompeo-coronavirus-presser/index.html