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US Defends Record on Combating AIDS - 2004-07-13

The Bush administration Tuesday defended what it said is a preeminent U.S. record on fighting AIDS following criticism at the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok.

The State Department says the United States' program against AIDS far surpasses that of any other nation and that its efforts to fight the disease are commensurate with the war against terrorism.

The comments followed criticism of the Bush administration's record in the AIDS fight at the Bangkok conference, by among others, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and French President Jacques Chirac.

Mr. Annan suggested in a BBC interview that the U.S. administration was more concerned about weapons of mass destruction and terrorists who could kill thousands than about the AIDS epidemic, which he said is killing millions.

Mr. Annan called on the United States to show the same leadership in fighting AIDS as it has in fighting terrorism.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Secretary of State Colin Powell has made clear from the beginning that the Bush administration views AIDS as one of the greatest threats to mankind.

He said the United States has responded with an enormous commitment of resources very similar in magnitude to those devoted to the anti-terrorism campaign:

"This administration has taken the AIDS crisis very seriously," he said. "We do consider it the greatest threat of mass destruction on the face of the planet in the present age, and we are continuing to lead the efforts internationally, with funding, with science, with diplomacy, and with the energy of the United States government behind it, to try to address this crisis."

French President Chirac, in a statement read in his name in Bangkok, said U.S. bilateral trade deals enforcing intellectual property rights for U.S. pharmaceutical companies undermine efforts to make cheap AIDS drugs.

The Bush administration has sought to protect American drug patents in international trade. But it also committed in May to fast-track the approval of cheaper generic anti-AIDS drugs so they can be distributed abroad at low prices.

Mr. Boucher called that policy a significant advance, while also rejecting criticism in Bangkok that the U.S. financial commitment to the AIDS fight has been inadequate.

He said the United States is spending $2.5 billion this year to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and that its $547 million contribution to the U.N.'s Global Fund on AIDS is also the largest for any country, 36 percent of the fund's total resources.

The Bush administration has a five-year, $15 billion global strategy against AIDS.

It has a heavy emphasis on AIDS prevention, and would focus on bilateral aid to 14 countries in Africa and the Caribbean hardest-hit by the disease.