Q And one other topic. Twenty-three countries have signed on to the idea of this WHO treaty that would improve information sharing during future pandemics. Why hasn’t the U.S. signed on to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we believe it’s vital in working with international partners and other countries and, of course, strengthening and reforming our international efforts as it relates to addressing pandemics and future pandemics.
We do have some concerns primarily about the timing and launching into negotiations for a new treaty right now, and we believe that could divert attention away from substantive issues regarding the response, preparedness for future pandemic threats. And we believe that should be our focus currently, but we’re certainly open to and looking for continued collaboration with the global community.
Q Does President Biden believe that the millions of Americans who lost loved ones to COVID-19 deserve a better response than the one that they’ve gotten from the WHO?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of looking into —
Q In terms of the origins for COVID-19.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he believes that the American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors — all of the people who have been working to save lives — the families who have lost loved ones — all deserve greater transparency. They deserve better information. They deserve steps that are taken by the global community to provide that.
So there was an extensive statement put out by a number of countries, including the U.S. But let me highlight — and we’re still reviewing the report, but let me highlight some of the concerns that have come up to date.
The report lacks crucial data, information, and access. It represents a partial and incomplete picture. There was a joint statement, as I noted, that was put out. We also welcome a similar statement from the EU and EU members, sending a clear message that the global community shares these concerns.
There are steps from here that we believe should be taken. There’s a second stage in this process that we believe should be led by international and independent experts. They should have unfettered access to data. They should be able to ask questions of people who are on the ground at this point in time, and that’s a step the WHO could take.
Q And that statement says that the U.S. joins these countries in expressing shared concerns. But the statement, quite frankly, is pretty bureaucratic and perhaps does not meet the moment of the seriousness of the crisis here in this country in terms of the death toll. So what is the White House’s actual reaction to this report from the WHO? Was it simply inadequate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the report is still being reviewed by our team of experts; 17 experts are reviewing it.
Q But you know the headline of it, and it’s not sufficient, you’ve said. So —
MS. PSAKI: We agree. And we have long said, as I just stated, it lacks crucial data, information. It lacks access. It lacks transparency. It certainly — we don’t believe that, in our review to date, that it meets the moment, it meets the impact that this pandemic has had on the global community. And that’s why we also have called for additional forward-looking steps.
And I will tell you that negotiating between 20 countries or so to get a statement out, sometimes it appears bureaucratic, but well-intentioned.
Q When will the President speak on this?
MS. PSAKI: On the WHO report? I expect we’ll let our review conclude, and then we’ll look for an opportunity for him to speak to it. But I can certainly confirm for you that he shares these concerns. They are coming directly from him and directly from our national security team, who has looked at what the report has presented to date. They’re still reviewing and share the concerns issued in that statement that made those concerns clear.
Q Thanks, Jen. I just want to piggyback off of that as well. World Health Organization Director General Tedros — one of his primary concerns was that the report may have glossed over, if you will, the possibility that the — that the virus escaped from a lab. Is that a central concern of the White House as well? And then, when you talk about cooperation, has China not cooperated enough, in the White House’s opinion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they have not been transparent. They have not provided underlying data. That certainly doesn’t qualify as cooperation. You know, the analysis performed to date from our experts — you know, or their concern is that there isn’t additional support for one hypothesis. It doesn’t lead us to any closer of an understanding or greater knowledge than we had six to nine months ago about the origin. It also doesn’t provide us guidelines or steps — recommended steps on how we should prevent this from happening in the future. And those are imperative.
Q And so that centers on the hypothesis that would involve the lab?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it doesn’t — it doesn’t lead to — it doesn’t — it doesn’t provide us greater understanding of the origin of the virus.
Q Yes, one more follow-up on the WHO. Is the President disappointed with the WHO? Does he believe they’re not up to the task?
MS. PSAKI: I think what the statement makes clear is that we remain — that — that was issued by the State Department today — is that we remain confident in the role of the WHO. We look to be a contributing member of the WHO. We have some concerns as we — as I’ve expressed about the analysis that’s been done so far about the report, and we think that steps can be taken moving forward in the second stage of the review to ameliorate some of those.
Q Descheduling them — federally descheduling and an end the federal prohibition?
MS. PSAKI: That’s been his position. Nothing has changed.
Q And regarding the WHO, former President Trump has accused the WHO of being, quote, “a puppet of China.” Does this report confirm that claim?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve expressed our concerns about the role — the lack of transparency, the lack of data that has been provided broadly to the global community. We believe there are steps that can be taken moving forward to ensure that an independent investigation — that global experts are involved in the next stage of this process. But we also believe that the WHO is a body that the United States should be a part of — that in order to make changes happen, we need to have a seat at the table, and that’s why we rejoined the WHO.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you very much, Jen. I have one question on Asia and one question on Asian Americans. We know the Japanese Prime Minister is coming to visit, and also both NSC and State Department are said to host the — their Japanese and South Korean counterparts. As the representative of a foreign press group, I got a question from NHK.
The Japanese media asks: Your administration has focused on working closely with East Asian allies, like Japan and South Korea, to counter to China. But these countries have a different relationship with China than the U.S. has with China. So how will you and your Asian allies cooperate with you when they sit on different interests than the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I completely understand your question. Are you asking if we — how will we discuss China and our relationship with China when the President and others in the administration see leaders from Japan?
Q No. I — the East Asian countries have different interests than the U.S. has with China.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So how will — how will you have your Asian allies cooperate with you if you have different interests?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, just like the U.S. relationships with any country, there are areas of mutual interests. There are areas where we can communicate, work together on, even sometimes have disagreements, whether it is economic cooperation or security in the region. And certainly we’ll — I expect that those conversations should cover a range of topics.