White House says Biden, Xi discussed origins of COVID probe

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Delta variant and his administration's efforts to increase vaccinations, from the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 9, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON, Sept 11 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden discussed the investigation into the origins of COVID-19 during a call on Thursday with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, according to the White House.

“They did discuss a range of trans-national issues including COVID-19, and understanding its origins is of course a primary concern for this administration,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday. “Yes, it was a topic raised, but I’m not going to go into further detail.”

Biden vowed last month to press China for answers over the origins of a pandemic that has now killed 4.8 million people worldwide. Intelligence agencies said they could not resolve a debate over whether the virus emerged from a Chinese research laboratory without Beijing’s help. read more

Beijing denies the U.S. accusation that it has not cooperated with the pandemic source investigation. read more

Thursday’s 90-minute call was the first talks for the two leaders’ first in seven months amid cool relations between the countries. read more

A U.S. official who spoke to Reuters on Thursday said Biden had not planned to raise the prospect of U.S. retaliatory action or “costs” if China refused to cooperate on the investigation or a range of other issues.

For his part, Xi told Biden that the two countries should respect each other’s core concerns and properly manage differences, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The outlet reported that Xi suggested to Biden that the countries should continue with contact and dialogue and cooperate on issues including epidemic prevention and control and economic recovery, as well as major international and regional issues like climate change.

Psaki described the call as respectful and candid, not lecturing or condescending, intended at keeping channels of communication open between the countries.

Climate and human rights were among the topics, she said, and though economic matters were discussed they were “not a major part” of the call.

“It wasn’t a call that was intended to produce final outcomes,” according to Psaki.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Trevor Hunnicutt, Alexandra Alper and Shubham Kalia; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell

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