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Blinken says US intends to pay contributions to World Health Organization by end of month

FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, file photo, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria. Blinken is the leading contender to become President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team's planning. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

(CNN) — Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States “intends to pay over $200 million in assessed and current obligations” to the World Health Organization by the end of the month, making good on its move to rejoin the multilateral organization amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a key step forward in fulfilling our financial obligations as a WHO member, and it reflects our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic, even as we work to reform it for the future,” Blinken said at a United Nations Security Council meeting on equitable global vaccine distribution.

The top US diplomat, who was addressing the forum for the first time since assuming his post, stressed the need for the Covid-19 response to be globally focused and for all nations to do their part to address not only the current outbreak, but also major health crises going forward.

“The United States believes that multilateralism, the United Nations, the World Health Organization are essential, not just as an effective international COVID-19 health and humanitarian response, but also building stronger global health capacity and security for the future. We have the immediate challenge of COVID-19. We have a longer challenge, but equally vital, in establishing the strongest possible health structure going forward,” he said.

His comments mark a sharp departure from the previous administration, which scorned and sought to leave the WHO amid the deadly pandemic. One of President Joe Biden’s first acts in office was to stop the United States’ departure from the multilateral body.

Blinken called for nations to be transparent in sharing information on the pandemic, but did not name any specific countries. A WHO fact finding mission recently returned from Wuhan, where the outbreak began, but said they were not given access to raw data on the disease.

Over the weekend, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan expressed “deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the Covid-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them” and called on China to “make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”

Responding to Sullivan’s comments, a spokesperson for the China embassy took aim at the Trump administration’s deprecation of multilateral institutions.

“What the US has done in recent years has severely undermined multilateral institutions, including the WHO, and gravely damaged international cooperation on Covid-19. But the US, acting as if none of this had ever happened, is pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the WHO and at the WHO itself,” the spokesperson said.

Speaking to the Security Council Wednesday, Blinken said that “the ongoing expert investigation about the origins of this pandemic and the report that will be issued must be independent, with findings based on science and facts and free from interference,” Blinken said.

“To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, all countries must make available all data from the earliest days of any outbreak,” he said. “And going forward, all countries should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies, so the world learns as much as possible, as soon as possible. Transparency, information sharing, access for international experts: these must be the hallmarks of our common approach to what is truly a global challenge.”

Blinken also stressed the need to focus on the populations who have been most adversely affected by the pandemic, including women and people with disabilities.

“These groups must be included as decision makers at all levels, following the principle of nothing about us without us,” he said.

“And countries must be held accountable for upholding their human rights obligations. No country should be allowed to use Covid-19 as an excuse to violate human rights or fundamental freedoms. We also call for all countries to combat misinformation on vaccines. If we don’t, we seriously jeopardize our mission,” he added.