COVID-19 Pandemic Tests World Leaders Rancorous debate at the U.N. has led Secretary General António Guterres to say the pandemic has been a test of international cooperation that the world is failing.
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COVID-19 Pandemic Tests World Leaders

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COVID-19 Pandemic Tests World Leaders

COVID-19 Pandemic Tests World Leaders

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The COVID-19 pandemic is a test of international cooperation, one the U.N. secretary-general says the world is failing. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, that failure was on display at the ongoing General Assembly.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The secretary-general is trying to use this virtual General Assembly to get countries to work together to fight the pandemic and many other global challenges. But one Security Council debate showed just how hard this will be.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLY CRAFT: You know, shame on each of you. I am astonished, and I'm disgusted.

KELEMEN: That's the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, accusing her colleagues, though not naming which ones, of playing politics with COVID-19.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRAFT: Members of the council who took this opportunity to focus on political grudges rather than the critical issue at hand - my goodness.

KELEMEN: Craft defended the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the World Health Organization and said China should be held to account for, quote, "unleashing this plague onto the world."

China's ambassador Zhang Jun says the U.S. is just trying to blame others for its own failings.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEETING)

ZHANG JUN: The United States has been spreading political virus and disinformation and creating confrontation and division.

KELEMEN: Up to that point, it had been a rather dry Security Council meeting about global governance in the wake of COVID-19. There was a lot of talk about multilateralism and a few veiled swipes at the Trump administration's America-first approach. Craft said the U.S. has given U.N. agencies $900 million to counter the pandemic and compared that to others on the Security Council.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRAFT: Niger - 4.6 million, South Africa - 8.4 million, Indonesia - 5 million.

KELEMEN: The U.S. does give more to the U.N. than others, says Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group, but this is not just about money.

RICHARD GOWAN: Foreign diplomats had grown accustomed to Trump attacking U.N. arrangements like the Paris climate deal and mechanisms like the Human Rights Council. But they were genuinely shocked that Washington would walk away from the WHO during a global pandemic.

KELEMEN: Speaking via Skype, he said diplomats are worried about what he calls a nasty fight between the U.S. and China as Beijing tries to increase its influence in the world body.

GOWAN: On a day-to-day basis, Chinese diplomats in New York are often very assertive, increasingly hardline and sometimes bullying colleagues from smaller countries. The reality is that for most members of the U.N., neither the U.S. nor China is offering an attractive vision of the future of multilateralism.

CRAFT: And the world needs multilateral solutions on a range of issues beyond the pandemic, says Laetitia Courtois, who represents the International Committee of the Red Cross. She's raising the alarms about the forgotten conflicts, from Yemen to the Sahel region of Africa.

LAETITIA COURTOIS: They have a triple threat of climate, conflict and COVID-19. And for that, there needs to be a collective approach.

KELEMEN: The U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, made the same appeal all week, reminding diplomats that the world saw a previous period of fragmentation a century ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONIO GUTTERES: The result was the First World War, followed by the second. COVID-19 is casting a dark shadow across the world.

KELEMEN: And he called the pandemic a warning that must spur us to action. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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