WASHINGTON, Feb 25 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said the United States was “deeply concerned” Iran may have covered up details about the spread of coronavirus, and he called on all nations to “tell the truth” about the epidemic.
“The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” Pompeo told reporters, as he also criticized Beijing for what he characterized as the censorship of media and medical professionals.
“All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations,” he said.
Iran‘s coronavirus death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday, the highest outside China, increasing its international isolation as nations from South Korea to Italy accelerated emergency measures to curb the epidemic’s global spread.
Believed to come from wildlife in Wuhan city late last year, the flu-like disease has infected 80,000 people and killed 2,663 in China. But the World Health Organization (WHO) says the epidemic there has peaked and has been declining since Feb. 2.
Beijing last week revoked the credentials of three Wall Street Journal correspondents over a column China said was racist, and the United States has said it was considering a range of responses to their expulsion.
Pressed on what steps the Trump administration might take, Pompeo declined to provide any details beyond saying a broad range of options were on the table.
“Expelling our journalists exposes once again the government’s issue that led to SARS and now the coronavirus – namely censorship. It can have deadly consequences,” Pompeo said, referring to the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.
“If China permitted its own and foreign journalists and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge” of coronavirus, he added.
Pompeo said that despite the coronavirus epidemic, the United States planned to move forward and host a special meeting with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Las Vegas in March.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Tim Ahmann Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)