(AP) - President Joe Biden has ordered US intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory.
After months of minimising that possibility as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is joining worldwide pressure for China to be more open about the outbreak, aiming to head off complaints the president has not been tough enough as well as to use the opportunity to press China on alleged obstruction.
Mr Biden asked US intelligence agencies to report back within 90 days.
He directed US national laboratories to assist with the investigation and the intelligence community to prepare a list of specific queries for the Chinese government.
He called on China to cooperate with international probes into the origins of the pandemic.
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 in Wuhan, China.
Mr Biden in a statement said the majority of the intelligence community had “coalesced” around those two scenarios but “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other”.
He revealed that two agencies lean toward the animal link and “one leans more toward” the lab theory, “each with low or moderate confidence”.
“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,” said Mr Biden.
His statement came after weeks of the administration seeking to avoid public discussion of the lab leak theory and privately suggesting it was farfetched.
In another sign of shifting attitudes, the Senate approved two Wuhan lab-related amendments without opposition, attaching them to a largely unrelated bill to increase US investments in innovation.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House supports a new World Health Organisation investigation in China, but she added that an effective probe “would require China finally stepping up and allowing access needed to determine the origins”.
Mr Biden still held out the possibility that a firm conclusion may never be reached, 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 said.