U.S. military transport planes Thursday began moving relief supplies in large quantities to areas hardest hit by last Sunday's devastating earthquake and tsunami in East and South Asia. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the global response to the disaster in a video hookup with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
It will take several more days before U.S. Navy ships and other assets committed to the relief effort are fully deployed. But officials here say U.S. C-130 cargo planes began moving sizable amounts of supplies Thursday into Thailand and Indonesia, and that deliveries to Sri Lanka will begin Friday.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. officials share the frustration of aid workers in the hardest-hit areas of the Indian Ocean region that material assistance has been slow to arrive, but that this is about to change.
"We feel the difficulty of getting them the kind of immediate help," said Mr. Boucher. "But the help is being delivered. We have airplanes flying, search and rescue patrols. We have P-3's [patrol planes] out of Thailand. We have airplanes delivering supplies. We have truck convoys that are going to places. We have vessels that are steaming forward. We're working with donors on the immediate questions. Once you get supplies into the region, you need to get them to the people who need them."
Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the disaster response in a video teleconference with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and World Bank President James Wolfensohn.
Mr. Powell was joined on his end of the call here by the senior diplomats in Washington from India, Japan and Australia, countries that along with the United States have formed a "core group" to help coordinate relief efforts.
Spokesman Boucher said world-wide pledges to the effort are mounting so quickly that they are hard to tabulate, but he estimated they include $250 million in cash contributions from governments, another $250 million committed by the World Bank, and probably a like amount from private-citizen donors.
He said the value of military assets, which make up a large portion of the American effort, are hard to quantify. He also took strong issue with a reporter's suggestion the U.S. response has been tardy and insufficient.
"We don't accept those kind of criticisms," he added. "Any implication that the United States is not being generous, is not forthcoming, is not active, is not, in fact, leading the way, is just plain wrong, and doesn't reflect what's going on in this crisis, and doesn't reflect what's gone on in previous crises. At the same time, I have to say we've come to expect this. I would invite you to go back and read the reports that were written five days after the hurricanes in the Caribbean, you'll see the same pattern."
Secretary Powell paid condolence visits to the Washington embassies of Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand and told reporters the $35 million U.S. financial commitment so far will increase by "much more" as needs are determined and the best ways are found to use the resources.
He also told interviewers the United Nations will have lead responsibility for coordinating relief work, despite formation of the four-nation "core group."
While making no commitments, the Secretary of State said debt relief for the countries most affected by the disaster is something the international community should "look toward." The United States will take part in a January 12 meeting of the so-called "Paris Club" of leading creditor nations.
Spokesman Boucher said the United States would also welcome and take part "at senior levels" in an early-January donors conference being discussed by European Union countries.