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02 January 2005

Powell Says Tsunami Disaster Requires Massive International Response

Secretary, Florida governor to travel to Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka

By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- Bound for a visit to several nations ravaged by the December 26 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed America's determination to do all it can in the relief efforts.

During a pre-departure round of appearances on television network interview programs January 2, Powell described the devastation as "one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever seen" and one that requires an international response on a massive scale.

"This is the worst in terms of the number of countries involved and in terms of the loss of life," the millions of people displaced and the tens of thousands more missing and injured, he said in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press With Tim Russert."

Powell said that he and Florida Governor Jeb Bush -- the president's brother -- and the delegation they are leading would meet with government leaders in the region and international organizations working there to determine what more the United States can do to help.  Their first stops will be in Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand, after which they will be traveling to Jakarta and Aceh in Indonesia, and finally to Sri Lanka.

He said that he also would take part in an international conference in Jakarta on January 6 with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other leaders.

The secretary said a key consideration in a number of other upcoming visits by administration officials and members of Congress will be to "make sure that we are complementing what's going on, not getting in the way."


Powell rejected suggestions that the United States -- which has now pledged $350 million to the relief effort -- had reacted too slowly and, at first, too timidly to the disaster.  He said the United States, responsive from the start, steadily increased its involvement "as we got our assessments in and as the magnitude of this really hit us."

Even while waiting for those assessments, he said, "we dispatched teams, we diverted ships with food, we launched our military forces from our Pacific Command."  The U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard expeditionary strike group and the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group, with their attendant helicopters and other aircraft, were dispatched to provide logistical and transportation support.

Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Powell said that the challenge facing disaster relief efforts now is transporting supplies to the remote areas that need them. The bottlenecks in the distribution system "tend to be airports and port facilities when the aid starts to arrive," he noted.

"You have to have in place a system at the other end that can distribute this aid.  Invariably, that's a combination of international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, but ultimately it has to be the government itself," the secretary said.

Powell said that rebuilding affected areas in the region would be "a multiyear effort," noting that "whole villages and towns have been simply obliterated" and the survivors have not only lost family members, but also have "lost their homes, they've lost their economic wherewithal."


He said reconstruction efforts will be primarily the responsibility of the affected nations, but added that "they're going to need a great deal of help."  He said that President Bush "has made it clear that the United States will be in the forefront of this, as we have been in almost every similar disaster in recent history or, frankly, in long-term history."

Speaking on CNN’s “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer, Powell noted that "our giving comes in many forms."

"Some of it is straight contributions of the kind we've been talking about -- the $350 million, for example. But other giving comes from the private sector," he said, citing companies which have matched employee contributions and the Internet book, video, and music seller, which requested its customers to make donations to the American Red Cross.


"In the last couple of days, they've [] raised $14 million from their subscribers. The same thing is happening at [the Internet Service Provider] and so many other places. That's typical of American generosity. And so you have to factor that in and you have to factor a lot of the other things that our military does in the course of the year" in calculating how much Americans really are giving, he said.

Powell said that an investment in less fortunate nations is an investment in national security.

"If nations are poor, if they don't see hope, if they're riddled by disease, if no one is helping them, then radicalism takes over, they lose faith in democracy and they start turning in other directions," he said.  "This is an investment not only in the welfare of these people, which in and of itself is a good thing to do; it's an investment in our own national security."

According to Powell, the United States is ready and willing to help create a tsunami warning system covering the Indian Ocean to prevent a recurrence of the December 26 tragedy.

"We have the scientific expertise associated with this kind of a warning system with NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and we want to work with the international community. But the nations in the region have also got to make a commitment to this," he said.  Powell said that although scientists know how to set up a tsunami warning system, "it takes money, it takes equipment, it takes resources" to actually put one in place.

Asked about prospects for the upcoming election in Iraq -- and specifically whether it might produce a government that would draw much closer to Iran, Powell said on NBC that while "there may be Iranian influence... there is sufficient difference and past serious disagreements and conflicts between Iranian and Iraqi Shias that the Iraqis Shias will stand on their own two feet."

When shown a photograph of Mahmoud Abbas, a leading candidate to head the Palestinian Authority, being celebrated by terrorist adherents, Powell said: "That particular scene was disturbing, but I don't think it reflects Mr. Abbas's overall approach to governing.

If Abbas "shows a real commitment to end terror, I think he will find an Israeli partner ready to work with him, and he will certainly find the international community and especially the United States ready to play an important role," he said.

The full transcripts of Powell’s January 2 interviews on CNN, CBS, and NBC are available at:

For additional information go to U.S. Response to Tsunami and Earthquake in Asia

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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