An internal memo from the German Defense Ministry describes the claims by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as “a calculated attempt to distract” from Washington’s own failings.
FRANKFURT, Germany (AFP) — Germany’s defense ministry and Federal Intelligence Service (BND) have privately cast doubt on U.S. claims that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a Chinese lab, media reported Friday.
An internal memo prepared for Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer “classifies the American claims as a calculated attempt to distract” from Washington’s own failings, Der Spiegel reported.
President Trump is attempting “to distract from his own mistakes and direct Americans’ anger at China,” Spiegel cited from the document.
A defense ministry spokesman declined to confirm the existence of the memo when contacted by AFP.
Public broadcaster NDR cast doubt on the existence of a reported joint paper from the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance of Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand that allegedly accuses China of playing down the extent of the virus outbreak.
BND chiefs told MPs in a confidential Berlin parliamentary committee hearing that its Five Eyes partners claimed to have “no knowledge” of such a report, NDR wrote.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, responsible for oversight of the BND, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump on Wednesday described the coronavirus pandemic as “the worst attack we’ve ever had,” calling it “worse than Pearl Harbor… worse than the World Trade Center” and saying it “could have been stopped in China.” Yet early on, Trump praised China’s work containing the virus that appears to have originated in Wuhan, and said the disease would never come to the United States, or if it did, would “miraculously” disappear.
On Friday, Johns Hopkins University’s real-time tally showed 2,448 U.S. coronavirus deaths in the previous 24 hours, bringing the U.S. total to 75,543, while total infections numbered over 1.2 million — both figures are the highest national totals in the world.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed his unsubstantiated, and widely contested charge that the coronavirus pandemic likely originated in a Chinese laboratory.
“We don’t have certainty, and there is significant evidence that this came from the laboratory. Those statements can both be true,” he told reporters, adding that China had “perpetrated” the virus.
Beijing has repeatedly rejected at the claims.
“We urge the U.S. side to stop shifting the blame to China and turn to facts,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a news briefing Thursday.
Der Spiegel reported that German authorities also targeted China with criticism, citing “BND information” that Beijing pressured the World Health Organization to delay issuing a global warning after the initial outbreak in Wuhan.
“In a January 21 telephone call, Chinese President Xi Jinping asked WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to hold back information about person-to-person transmission and delay a pandemic warning,” the news weekly wrote on its website.
“According to the BND’s assessment, China’s information policy cost four to six weeks of time to fight the virus worldwide,” Spiegel added.
© Agence France-Presse