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Blinken doubts global pandemic deal can be reached in ‘near term’

By AFP - May 23,2024 - Last updated at May 23,2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken appears during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in Washington, DC (Petra photo)

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday voiced doubt for the near-term prospects of a global pandemic agreement under negotiation that has drawn a backlash in several Western countries.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, World Health Organisation (WHO) member countries have spent more than two years thrashing out an accord in hopes of preventing a repeat of a worldwide health disaster.

Talks are set to go on until Friday, with next week’s World Health Assembly in Geneva to decide what to do next.

“Where it currently stands is that it seems very unlikely that negotiations could conclude successfully in the next few days,” Blinken told a congressional hearing in response to a question critical of the potential deal.

“There’s no consensus,” he said.

Blinken said that the United States was still working with “many countries around the world in making sure that we’re better prepared for next time, they’re better prepared — that they have their own capacity to detect, to deal with, and, as necessary, to produce things like vaccines.”

“All of that is part of the conversation, but I don’t think, based on the latest I’ve seen, that this is going to come to a conclusion in the near term,” Blinken said.

Addressing one key concern, Blinken said that the United States would insist that the text reflect “our clear interests” including on intellectual property rights, with lawmakers charging that the deal could cede access to US know-how to adversary China.

Opposition to a treaty has grown in the United States, Britain and other countries, including among vaccine sceptics and conservatives who allege it would infringe on state sovereignty.

In a recent letter, three US Republican senators — John Barrasso, Cynthia Lummis and Ron Johnson — alleged that the WHO was grabbing power over nation states.

“The WHO’s failure during the Covid-19 pandemic was as total as it was predictable and did lasting harm to our country,” they wrote, insisting that the United States first insist on reforms of the UN body.

Under the US Constitution, treaties require approval by two-thirds of the Senate, a level of support that is virtually insurmountable on any controversial issue.

Blinken stopped short of clearly promising that President Joe Biden’s administration would submit any pandemic agreement, if it is concluded, as a treaty to the Senate.

“If there is a constitutional requirement, we will fulfill it,” Blinken said.

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