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US Willing to Accept Fuel Aid from Venezuela for Hurricane Victims


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 $5 million in fuel assistance to U.S. hurricane victims and the poor through Venezuela's state-owned oil company.

Ambassador Brownfield describes the offering. "What the government of Venezuela has offered the United States in response to the disaster, the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, is a generous offer,” said the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela. “When we are talking about one to five million dollars, that is real money. If additional petroleum or gasoline is made available to the U.S., that is real, concrete, serious assistance. I want to recognize that clearly and say, 'thank you' right here and right now."

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 an inappropriate issue for a foreign government to discuss at this time."

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 cutoff threat seriously, as it came from a head of state.

The ambassador said, "We owe it to our own citizens to ensure that we have contingency plans, should such a reduction or interruption come to pass. 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.

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