US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that there was “enormous evidence” that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
“There is enormous evidence that this is where it began,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
But while highly critical of China’s handling of the matter, Pompeo declined to say whether he thought the virus had been intentionally released.
President Donald Trump has been increasingly critical of China’s role in the pandemic, which has infected nearly 3.5 million people and killed more than 240,000 around the world.
He has insisted that Beijing recklessly concealed important information about the outbreak and demanded that Beijing be held “accountable.”
News reports say Trump has tasked US spies to find out more about the origins of the virus, at first blamed on a Wuhan market selling exotic animals like bats, but now thought possibly to be from a virus research laboratory nearby.
Pompeo, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told ABC that he agreed with a statement Thursday from the US intelligence community in which it concurred “with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”
But he went further than Trump, in citing “significant” and “enormous” evidence that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory.
“I think the whole world can see now, remember, China has a history of infecting the world and running substandard laboratories,” Pompeo said.
He said early Chinese efforts to downplay the coronavirus amounted to “a classic Communist disinformation effort. That created enormous risk.”
“President Trump is very clear: we’ll hold those responsible accountable.”
Outgoing US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not speak to President Donald Trump before he was sacked on Tuesday and has not been given a reason for his ouster, a top aide said.
“The secretary did not speak to the president this morning and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling and not to be regretted,” Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said.
Tillerson arrived back in Washington before dawn on Tuesday after a tour of African countries and a few hours later Trump announced abruptly on Twitter that he was to be replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo.
“We wish Secretary-Designate Pompeo well,” Goldstein — who is undersecretary of state for public affairs and public diplomacy — said, in a series of tweets from his official account.
“The secretary had every intention of remaining because of the tangible progress made on critical national security issues. He established and enjoyed relationships with his counterparts,” he said.
“The secretary will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and enjoyed working together with the Department of Defense in an uncommonly robust relationship,” he added, in a nod to Tillerson’s close working relationship with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday was to shorten his maiden tour of Africa because of work, aides said.
“Due to demands in the secretary’s schedule, he is returning to the US one day early, after concluding official meetings in Chad and Nigeria,” Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein told the press.
Tillerson, making his first trip to Africa as the senior-most US diplomat, has visited Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya since last Wednesday.
He is due to fly from the Chadian capital of N’Djamena on Monday to the Nigerian capital Abuja, staying there for several hours before heading for home in the early evening.
He had initially been scheduled to stay there overnight, hold further meetings on Tuesday with US embassy staff and then fly back to Washington.
But the African tour has coincided with the shock announcement of a possible summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump over the nuclear standoff in the Korean peninsula.
Tillerson, while in East Africa, canceled scheduled events on Saturday on the grounds of ill-health.
“The secretary is not feeling well after a long couple days working on major issues back home such as North Korea and has canceled his events for the day,” Goldstein said in a statement on Saturday.
He later said Tillerson was “feeling better” and would resume his schedule on Sunday.
The United Nations has said that at least nine million people are in urgent need of aid in Nigeria’s northeast and neighbouring countries.
The UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, Toby Lanzer, said at least $559 million would be needed in the next four months to ease the crisis in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
He said more than six million people were “severely food insecure” with 568,000 children acutely malnourished adding that the UN has appealed to Britain and other western governments for help.
Mr Lanzer said at the Chatham House in London: “With population growth of speed and nature, in an area where everyone is already poor, the environment is incredibly stressed.
“There is a never-ending stream of heavier violence, it is only natural to conclude that more people will migrate,” he said.
The Heads of State of the Lake Chad Basin and donor countries would meet on the margins of the annual United Nations General Assembly holding next week.
Meanwhile, the US President, Barack Obama, would meet with President Muhammadu Buhari on the sidelines of the Assembly.
US Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes, disclosed that President Obama would hold separate sessions with the Nigerian President, Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi and Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos.
The President of the United States, Barack Obama, will meet with Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, the leaders of Iraq and Colombia on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly holding next week.
The White House Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes, explained that President Obama would hold separate sessions with the Nigerian President, Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi and Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos.
President Buhari would participate in the five-day, 71st session of the General Assembly where he would deliver Nigeria’s statement at the opening of the general debate.
The theme of this year’s debate is “The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push To Transform Our World”.
Mr Duterte was responding to the US President’s promise to raise the issue of drug-related and extra-judicial killings in the Philippines at their meeting.
US aides later confirmed Mr Obama would meet South Korea’s President instead.
In reply, Mr Duterte issued a statement saying he regretted that the comment came across as a personal attack on the US President.
This is not the first time President Duterte has made inflammatory statements against prominent figures as he had attacked Pope Francis, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry and the US Ambassador to the Philippines in recent times.
A diplomatic row seems to be brewing between the US and the Philippines As President Barack Obama has cancelled a meeting with controversial Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, who earlier called him a “son of a whore”.
Mr Duterte was responding to the US President’s promise to raise the issue of drug-related extra-judicial killings in the Philippines at their meeting.
US aides later confirmed Mr Obama would meet South Korea’s president instead.
In reply, Mr Duterte issued a statement saying he regrets that the comment came across as a personal attack on the US President.
This is not the first time the Filippino President Duterte has employed inflammatory language against such prominent figures as he has attacked Pope Francis, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry and the US Ambassador to the Philippines in recent times.
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has urged Nigeria to pace up girl child education to foreclose the risk of turning down growth and development resulting from segregation of an important segment of the population.
Mr Kerry, who said the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is presently committing $10 million to help women in Nigeria make the right choices, said no nation can be lifted to its full potential without engaging its entire population.
At a meeting with Non-Government Organisations in charge of girl child education and protection at the US Embassy in Abuja, he said too many young women in Nigeria are out of school and forced into different kinds of circumstances which must be changed through a gradual but steady progress.
Country Representative of UNFPA in Nigeria, Ratidzai Ndhlovu, gave the advice at the official launch of the Adolescent Girls Initiative organised by UNFPA in collaboration with the Kaduna State government, where she noted that providing women and girls with equal access to education, is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a prosperous and sustainable nation.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, said the ministry will soon launch a campaign against early child marriage and child abuse to sensitize traditional and religious rulers across the country on the dangers of giving out their girls out early in marriage without giving them the necessary education or skills.
According to a report released by UNFPA, the northern region has the highest rate of female illiteracy in Nigeria, and also accounts for negative health outcomes which include the highest maternal mortality and infant mortality ratio. For instance, the number of girls without education in Sokoto State stands at 78.5 per cent followed by Kebbi State with 75 per cent, while that of Kaduna is 40.3 percent.
Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, on Tuesday told U.S. Secretary of State, Mr John Kerry, that he would institutionalise the anti-corruption crusade to ensure it lasts beyond the current administration.
At a meeting with Mr Kerry in Abuja, the President said his administration “will insist on the standards it is establishing”.
“We are laying down administrative and financial instructions in the public service that must be obeyed.
“Any breach will no longer be acceptable.
“We will retrain our staff, so that they understand the new orientation.
“And those who run afoul of these rules will be prosecuted, no matter who is involved,” he stressed.
He, however, stated that the government would be fair, just and act according to the rule of law, assuring the American envoy that “anyone perceived corrupt is innocent till we can prove it”.
President Buhari said that his administration would work very hard to establish documentation for successful prosecution and that those in positions of trust would sit up.
He appreciated the intervention of the U.S. before the 2015 polls, demanding free and fair elections in Nigeria, stressing that “America did not do it because of what it stands to benefit from us. You did it for the Nigerian people.
“It tells so much what the U.S. stands for in the world”.
On the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, President Buhari thanked the U.S. for both hard and soft military help.
“The training and intelligence that we could not muster ourselves, we received.
“The training has made Boko Haram less of a threat to Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin region, while the military hardware has given our troops added confidence,” he told Mr Kerry.
Militancy In Niger Delta
President Buhari said although Militancy in the Niger Delta had impacted negatively on the nation’s economy and affected the positive intentions of international and local investors, the government was showing restraint not to use real force, “except when constrained to do so”.
On the economy, the President assured the American envoy that the focus of his administration was on the diversification of the economy “having learnt our lessons from years of over dependence on oil”.
Ready-made Playing Field
Mr Kerry commended the courage of President Buhari in fighting corruption.
He said: “We applaud what you are doing. Corruption creates a ready-made playing field for recruiting extremists.
“You inherited a big problem, and we will support you in any way we can. We will work with you very closely.
“We don’t want to interfere, but will offer opportunities as you require”.
The American Secretary of State also pledged to assist in tackling the humanitarian challenges in the North-east, assuring the Nigerian President that his country would get the UK, France, and others “to augment the support”.
“Nigeria is priority for us. We won’t miss the opportunity to work together, because you are making significant progress,” Mr Kerry said.
After the meeting with the President, the American envoy is met with some governors from the northern part of Nigeria.
They are governors of Borno, Benue, Kwara, Bauchi, Adamawa, Sokoto and Zamfara.
Earlier at a meeting with the Sultan of Sokoto, Mr Kerry stressed the need for the fight against corruption to be a global security of the first order to bring violent extremism to an end.
Delivering a speech on Resilient Communities and Religious Tolerance in Countering Violent Extremism, Mr Kerry said extremists do not only kill people but also turn the most vulnerable among the society into killers.
The Syrian Jabhat al-Nusra, otherwise called Nusra Front says it has split from the al-Qaeda group, spurring suggestions it might be trying to join the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
In a video message posted online, the Leader of the jihadist group, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, said that the group would be known by its new name, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham which means ‘front for the conquest of Syria’.
Al-Julani explained that the purpose of the move was to eliminate the ploy used by powers.
Analysts say the Nusra Front decided to re-brand itself after the US and Russia stepped up military efforts against its activities.
Last week, US Secretary of State, Mr John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, agreed to take what they called ‘concrete steps’, to tackle jihadist groups like the Nusra Front and the IS.