WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden on Wednesday asked U.S. intelligence officials to "redouble" their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the unlikely possibility that the origins of the virus trace to Chinese lab.
After months of minimizing the possibility as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is responding both to domestic and geopolitical concerns about putting pressure on China to be transparent about the outbreak.
Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have promoted the theory that the virus emerged from a laboratory accident, rather than naturally through human contact with an infected animal.
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Biden in a statement said the majority of the intelligence community had "coalesced" around those two likely scenarios but "do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other." He revealed that two of the 18 intelligence agencies lean toward the animal link and "one leans more toward" the lab theory, adding, "each with low or moderate confidence."
Biden directed U.S. national laboratories to assist with the investigation and called on China to cooperate with international probes into the origins of the pandemic.
"The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence," he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the White House supports a new World Health Organization investigation in China, but added it "would require China finally stepping up and allowing access needed to determine the origins."
Biden, for his part, held out the possibility that a firm conclusion may never be known, given the Chinese government's refusal to fully cooperate with international investigations.
"The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19," he added.