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US Ambassador: Venezuelan Post-Katrina Aid Welcome

The U.S. ambassador to Venezuela says the United States is appreciative of Venezuelan offers of assistance to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, but that criticism by President Hugo Chavez of the Bush administration's response to the disaster is inappropriate.

Ambassador William Brownfield told VOA the United States welcomes President Chavez' offer of up to five million dollars in fuel assistance to U.S. hurricane victims and the poor through Venezuela's state-owned oil company.

"What the government of Venezuela has offered the United States in response to the disaster, the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, is a generous offer," Mr. Brownfield says. "When we are talking about one-to-five million dollars, that is real money. I want to recognize that and say, 'thank you.'"

Sunday, in his weekly appearance on Venezuela's state-run television, President Chavez announced that fuel aid would be increased from one-to-five million dollars. But he blasted U.S. hurricane preparations as grossly inadequate, saying that President Bush has shown he can plan for war, but not for the well being of the people of the United States during a natural disaster.

Ambassador Brownfield urged Mr. Chavez to declare what he termed a "ceasefire on their public, negative comments" about the U.S. government's handling of the disaster.

"It is not appropriate, and in fact it is probably inappropriate issue for a foreign government to discuss at this time," Mr. Brownfield says.

President Chavez' offer of additional fuel aid came weeks after the Venezuelan leader accused the United States of plotting to remove him from power, and threatened to cut off oil exports to the United States.

Ambassador Brownfield emphatically denied any U.S. ambitions to topple the Venezuelan government, but said that the United States has no choice but to take the oil cut-off threat seriously, as it came from a head of state.

"We owe it to our own citizens to ensure that we have contingency plans, should such a reduction or interruption come to pass," Mr. Brownfield says. "But let me say that this would be an illogical act on the part of the government of Venezuela. Venezuela and the U.S. are natural partners in oil, for simple, common sense geographic reasons."

The United States is Venezuela's top oil customer, and Venezuelan oil accounts for about 15-percent of U.S. petroleum imports.