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Clinton to Visit Haiti Saturday for First-Hand Look at Earthquake Relief Efforts

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will fly to Port-au-Prince Saturday to meet Haitian President Rene Preval and get a first-hand look at Haiti earthquake relief efforts. Clinton says the gesture will convey the United State's unwavering support, solidarity and sympathies to the Haitian people.

Not wanting to disrupt relief efforts, Clinton will fly into Port-au-Prince on a U.S. military cargo plane already committed to the relief mission, and will not leave the confines of the airport.

She told reporters here she will meet at the airport with Haitian President Rene Preval, U.S. military and civilian relief personnel, and members of non governmental groups to thank them for their efforts and underscore American solidarity with the Haitian people. "Our hearts and our prayers are with the people of Haiti, the brave rescue workers that are there, on the ground, literally working around the clock. We had some wonderfully heartwarming stories today of people being rescued from the rubble alive and well, and to reiterate the support that we feel for all of those who are caught up in this disaster," she said.

Clinton will be accompanied to Haiti by a team of officials including U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Raj Shah.

President Obama has committed $100 million dollars to an official U.S. aid effort that officials here say will likely become much larger over time, and be supplemented by potentially even bigger contributions by private Americans to non-governmental aid groups.

Under questioning, Clinton said she did not want to understate the task facing Haiti and its international supporters, but said she was confident the country has the resilience to overcome the current situation. "A country that had four hurricanes last year and a devastating earthquake this year has certainly got more than its share of problems. But I think we've learned a lot, and there's a resilience among the people of Haiti, and a commitment on the part of the current government that I think bodes well for being able to bring about reconstruction and recovery efforts that will be successful," she said.

Clinton said the military transport she will fly into Haiti on will be carrying relief supplies and that on the flight out several hours later, the same aircraft will carry American civilians and others being evacuated from the country.

U.S. officials estimate that as many as 45,000 American citizens, many of them U.S.-Haitian dual nationals, were in the country at the time of Tuesday's earthquake and that about one thousand had been evacuated by late Friday.

Under questioning, Clinton said the United States very much appreciates a decision by Cuba to open up its airspace to medical evacuation and emergency flights from Haiti, and would welcome any other contributions by the communist government to the international relief mission.

The State Department said the United States and Haiti signed an agreement Friday giving U.S. experts operational control of the Port-au-Prince airport, which was left in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake without a traffic control system.

Clinton said she expects the convening soon of an international donor conference for Haiti and had already discussed the issue with Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, among others.