US officials defend response to foreign aid offers

US officials defend response to foreign aid offers


WASHINGTON: Defending the United States' sluggish response to offers of aid
that have poured in from abroad since Hurricane Katrina, senior US officials
said it is a challenge to match offers from some 95 countries with what is
most needed on the ground.

Adding to scathing criticism at home that authorities were slow to respond
to the Katrina disaster, a European Union official has blamed transport and
other logistics problems in the United States for holding up some of the aid
offered by EU countries.

But Harry Thomas, the State Department official in charge of handling the
foreign aid denied it was being snarled by bureaucracy.

He said 11 planeloads of food, tents and other goods arrived in Little Rock,
Arkansas, this week from Britain, Italy and France, for distribution to
hurricane victims. Planes laden with provisions were due to arrive in the
next few days from Britain, France, China, Russia, Spain and Israel.

Barbara Helfferich, a spokeswoman for the European Union's executive
Commission, said on Tuesday that problems were snarling EU aid offers. She
cited the example of a Swedish plane laden with aid that was waiting to take
off but had not received US approval to enter the United States.

Thomas acknowledged that not all offers of aid, which total about $US1
billion ($NZ1.42 billion) in cash and other assistance, were being taken up
as they were offered, saying they had to be matched with specific needs.

"The last thing we want is for someone to offer us something that is
wonderful but can't really be utilised," said Thomas, executive secretary at
the State Department.

In some cases, the United States has asked countries to modify their offers.
For example, Kuwait offered $US400 million in crude oil but what the United
States really needed was gasoline, a refined product.

Thomas said no aid was being rejected, although one reported offer from Iran
to provide crude oil if the US dropped its sanctions threat was unlikely to
be accepted.

"That was a conditional offer. That speaks for itself," said Thomas.

Other assistance unlikely to be accepted is from longtime foe Cuba, which
has more than 1500 doctors on standby waiting to come to the United States.
The State Department said there appeared to be enough US medical volunteers.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called coordinating the aid offers
a "complicated process."

"I think that what we have seen is a very effective response from the
Department of State, as well as the other US government agencies, to really
in a concrete way realize these offers of assistance on the ground," he

Asked about Sweden's complaints, McCormack said the United States welcomed
the help.

"We have reached back out to the Swedish government to say that we very much
value their offer of assistance and we are looking for a way to match up
what it is that they have with what the needs are on the ground," he said.

Some countries have also complained the United States has not responded at
all to their offers, but Thomas and McCormack said every offer was
immediately acknowledged.,2106,3404037a12,00.html