Wednesday, September 07, 2005

U.S. officials defend response to foreign aid offers

From TheStar:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defending the United States' sluggish response to offers of aid that have poured in from abroad since Hurricane Katrina, senior U.S. officials said on Wednesday it is a challenge to match offers from some 95 countries with what is most needed on the ground.
Adding to scathing criticism at home that authorities were slow to respond to the Katrina disaster, a European Union official has blamed transport and other logistics problems in the United States for holding up some of the aid offered by EU countries.
But Harry Thomas, the State Department official in charge of handling the foreign aid denied it was being snarled by bureaucracy.
He said 11 planeloads of food, tents and other goods arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas, this week from Britain, Italy and France, for distribution to hurricane victims. Planes laden with provisions were due to arrive in the next few days from Britain, France, China, Russia, Spain and Israel.
Barbara Helfferich, a spokeswoman for the European Union's executive Commission, said on Tuesday that problems were snarling EU aid offers. She cited the example of a Swedish plane laden with aid that was waiting to take off but had not received U.S. approval to enter the United States.
Thomas acknowledged that not all offers of aid, which total about $1 billion in cash and other assistance, were being taken up as they were offered, saying they had to be matched with specific needs.
"The last thing we want is for someone to offer us something that is wonderful but can't really be utilized," said Thomas, executive secretary at the State Department.
In some cases, the United States has asked countries to modify their offers. For example, Kuwait offered $400 million in crude oil but what the United States really needed was gasoline, a refined product.
Thomas said no aid was being rejected, although one reported offer from Iran to provide crude oil if the U.S. dropped its sanctions threat was unlikely to be accepted.
"That was a conditional offer. That speaks for itself," said Thomas.
Other assistance unlikely to be accepted is from longtime foe Cuba, which has more than 1,500 doctors on standby waiting to come to the United States. The State Department said there appeared to be enough U.S. medical volunteers.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called coordinating the aid offers a "complicated process."
"I think that what we have seen is a very effective response from the Department of State, as well as the other U.S. government agencies, to really in a concrete way realize these offers of assistance on the ground," he said.
Asked about Sweden's complaints, McCormack said the United States welcomed the help.
"We have reached back out to the Swedish government to say that we very much value their offer of assistance and we are looking for a way to match up what it is that they have with what the needs are on the ground," he said.
Some countries have also complained the United States has not responded at all to their offers, but Thomas and McCormack said every offer was immediately acknowledged.


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