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Trump administration outlines new biodefense approach

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President Trump is directing his administration to implement a new national biodefense strategy, forming a Cabinet-level committee to assess and combat threats, the White House announced Tuesday.

A memo the president signed Tuesday names Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to head up the Biodefense Steering Committee, which will put into place policies coordinated and developed by the president's National Security Council. The Trump administration argues that, while previous administrations assessed biological and chemical threats, this new structure will consolidate the coordination of that process and centralize much of the authority in HHS. Such strategy is necessary to thwart threats from terrorists and other bad actors, the White House says. 

"My administration is changing the government's approach so that it can adapt to the complex nature of biological threats," Mr. Trump said in a statement. "Our National Biodefense Strategy will address the full range of biological threats, including those that are naturally occurring, deliberate, and accidental—a first for the United States government. We will comprehensively evaluate our national biodefense needs and monitor implementation of our strategy on an ongoing basis in order to prioritize effectively the government's biodefense resources and actions."

National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters in a briefing Tuesday the timing of the announcement and strategy is mandated by statute, and there is "no particular, immediate threat." Other biodefense strategies have been in place under previous administrations, but Bolton and Azar claimed having one agency heading up the plan -- HHS -- will ensure more accountability. The strategy will be reviewed on an annual basis. 

Bolton said that, while much of the nation focuses on nuclear threats — the administration is still waiting for the denuclearization of North Korea after Mr. Trump's June meeting with Kim Jong Un — biological and chemical weapons can be used by bad actors, too.

"This is we think critical for our defense purposes, looking at the range of weapons of mass destruction that the United States and our friends and allies face. We all focus on nuclear weapons, but biological weapons, chemical weapons, are very very dangerous," Bolton said.

The question of any funding needs will be addressed in the near future with Congress, Bolton said. 

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