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Colin Powell touring tsunami countries, says relief going well

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Secretary of State Colin Powell sought to reassure Asian leaders on a tour to inspect tsunami damage that the United States is in solidarity in helping the region recover.

"The United States will certainly not turn away from those in desperate need," Powell told leaders in Thailand.

The secretary of state said the biggest problem now is not money but how to distribute it and plan for long-term reconstruction.

Accompanied by the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the secretary of state stressed a two-prong U.S. commitment of financial support and military support to help the region recover.

The relief effort for countries devastated by an undersea earthquake and killer waves is going well, Powell said while visiting Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, three countries with heavy damage and loss of life.

Powell said the U.S. response to the tsunami disaster has grown as the world has learned the scale of the devastation, and he said he saw no immediate need for more federal money.

With international government donations and pledges totaling some $2 billion, Powell said a main focus was on spending the money wisely.

He said he wanted a firsthand look before recommending to the president what the United States should do next.

Jeb Bush is also leading the team of U.S. aid and disaster experts scouting the region with Powell.

"The president wanted both of us to come out here to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the nations of the region and to make an assessment of the situation and see what else we might need to do," Powell said.

Separately, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said in Washington it was critical for the United States to provide relief aid.

The United States has faced criticism that it was slow to respond to the Dec. 26 disaster.

Other countries were quicker to commit large amounts of aid money, and Japan has outpaced the U.S. total of $350 million pledged so far.

In Thailand, Powell was meeting with senior government leaders in Bangkok and then visiting the hard-hit resort area of Phuket. Phuket is one of the most popular beaches along the Thai coast for American and European tourists.

Powell will represent the United States at an international conference in Jakarta. That conference will provide an opportunity to iron out any problems coordinating aid and recovery efforts among the many countries and organizations participating, he said.

"But right now I would say things are going exceptionally well when you consider we're only eight days into this," he said.


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