Mike Pompeo Says Iranians and Chinese Will 'Hold Their Leaders Responsible' for Coronavirus Failings

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has fired a fresh broadside at America's rivals over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting citizens will ultimately hold their leaders responsible for failures that have put thousands at risk.

Speaking with radio host Tony Perkins of the conservative Washington Watch show on Tuesday, Pompeo accused Chinese and Iranian officials of endangering lives by trying to hide the severity of the coronavirus outbreak and dodging responsibility for their own failings.

Testy U.S. relations with China and Iran have deteriorated further amid the pandemic. President Donald Trump, Pompeo and others have termed the sickness the "Chinese Virus" or "Wuhan Virus," despite protests from Beijing and warnings that such rhetoric could inflame racist sentiment in the U.S.

The administration has also refused to ease sanctions on Iran despite the disastrous coronavirus impact there.

Chinese and Iranian officials have been accused of covering up the scale of the coronavirus outbreak in their nations. They have also engaged in conspiracy theories and spread disinformation suggesting that the U.S. was to blame for the pandemic.

"The people most harmed by the absence of transparency and good governance are the people of their own country," Pompeo said of China and Iran.

"I think the people in those countries know this," he added. "I think the people in those countries will ultimately hold their leaders responsible for this. And I think this, too, is why this disinformation campaign is taking place. They want to try and deflect responsibility from the poor decisions that those leaders undertook."

Pompeo said that China's lack of transparency had "truly put thousands of lives at risk," and said he was concerned that the ongoing Chinese "cover-up" is still denying the world the information it needs so that we can prevent further cases or something like this from recurring again.

"The disinformation campaign from Russia and Iran as well as China continues," he added. "They're talking about it coming from the U.S. Army and they're saying maybe it began in Italy, all things to deflect responsibility."

But China and Iran have accused Trump, Pompeo and other senior administration figures of using the same playbook to deflect criticism of their own mishandling of the crisis.

Trump and his allies initially tried to downplay the threat posed by coronavirus, with the president describing the concern as a Democratic "hoax."

Trump has since declared a national emergency and seems to have accepted the danger, but has continued to spread misinformation about the virus and treatment options, while also arguing for fewer social distancing restrictions designed to stop its spread.

The World Health Organization warned Tuesday that the U.S. could become the global epicenter of the outbreak in the coming weeks. There have been 55,225 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University, with 802 deaths and 354 recoveries.

On Tuesday, Pompeo also suggested that the coronavirus crisis would prompt the U.S. to reconsider its trading relationship with China. He said "very important decisions" will have to be made, and suggested that supply challenges facing U.S. markets were down to firms "operating their supply chains out of China but not here in the United States."

Mike Pompeo, Iran, Russia, China, coronavirus
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a press conference at the State Department in Washington D.C., on March 17, 2020. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images/Getty