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04 January 2005

Powell Lauds Thailand's Leadership in Tsunami Recovery Effort

Utapao Air Base central to regional disaster relief

Secretary of State Colin Powell praised Thailand's contributions to international recovery efforts in the wake of the tsunami disaster that struck the Indian Ocean region December 26, 2004.

During a January 4 interview in Bangkok with Thailand's Independent Television (ITV), Powell said the United States was pleased to have Thailand's permission to use Utapao Air Base as a regional hub for aid efforts being provided by U.S. civilian and military authorities.

"Thailand has an important role to play, not only in dealing with its problem, but dealing with the region's problems," the secretary said.  "And the Thai government has certainly stepped forward and played an important leadership role."

The United States has a three-star Marine Corps general at Utapao working with the Thai authorities and other foreign militaries to coordinate relief efforts, Powell said, adding: "The Thai government has made it clear that they will do what is necessary for as long as it is necessary."

Powell, who is in Thailand to discuss the needs of Thailand and other countries battered by the tsunami, said his discussions with Thai authorities included the need for forensic support to identify bodies, for containers for human remains, and for a regional tsunami warning system.

Rehabilitation plans are also in the works, Powell said, for the economy and for the environment.

The regional partners will be gathering in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 6 to discuss what needs to be done and how it will be paid for, Powell said.  According to the secretary, the United States government has "made it clear that we will do everything that is necessary to support the countries in the region."

For additional information go to “U.S. Response to Tsunami and Earthquake in Asia at: http://usinfo.state.gov/sa/south_asia/tsunamis.html

Following is the State Department transcript:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State

Office of the Spokesman

(Jakarta, Indonesia)

January 4, 2005

INTERVIEW

SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN L. POWELL

WITH CHAIRAT THOMYA OF THAILAND'S INDEPENDENT TELEVISION (ITV)

January 4, 2005

Don Muang Airport

Bangkok, Thailand

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, welcome.

SECRETARY POWELL:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  You have traveled to Thailand many times and to the countries most affected by the tsunami. When you see the disaster on TV, how did you feel?

SECRETARY POWELL:  I was deeply saddened. I had never seen anything like this. I have been involved in many crises over the course of my career, but I have never seen one single event that affected 12 countries and caused such incredible loss of life. And what surprised me is that from the first day that we thought there were maybe a few hundred people had been killed in Thailand to discover within a few days that it was in the thousands, And then when you see what is happening in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, it truly is a tragedy of enormous proportion, and the United States has tried to respond as quickly as we could. Within a few hours I had spoken to the Foreign Minister and told him that the United States would provide all the support necessary. And I think we are demonstrating that- not only financial support - but also our patrol planes are flying in the region now. We are so pleased that we able to use Utapao as a central focus for disaster relief from our military as well as our civilian authorities. And so Thailand has an important role to play, not only in dealing with its problem, but dealing with the region's problems. And the Thai government has certainly stepped forward and played an important leadership role.

QUESTION: Could you explain more about the center you have set up in Utapao and how long will it operate? 

SECRETARY POWELL:  I can't tell you how long it will operate. As far as we are concerned, it should operate as long as it is needed. And so we now have a marine three star general at Utapao working with the Thai authorities and working with other militaries who are in the area to help from other countries. And it will serve as a regional hub for resupply to Phuket, but also to the other countries that have been affected. We don't want to do it for any longer than is necessary, but the Thai government has made it clear that they will do what is necessary for as long as it is necessary. 

QUESTION:  Has the Thai government made specific requests to you? 

SECRETARY POWELL:  We talked about the need for forensic support to identify bodies. We talked about containers for remains, human remains, both the (inaudible) containers, as well as the metal containers. We talked about the need for a regional warning system and how we can work with the Thai government and other governments of the region to put in place a regional warning system so that if something like this happens again in the future, we will have a better way of telling people to remove themselves from areas of danger.

We also talked about the economic impact that the tsunami will have on Thailand and the other countries in the region. And some things you wouldn't immediately think of, but we already starting to think of, that is: reconstruction of homes, rehabilitation of businesses and environmental damage. What has been the impact on the environment as a result of this tsunami? And that is why it is good to have Governor Bush with me, the brother of the president and the governor of Florida because Florida has been through this kind of experience. And we have some knowledge of how to respond to this kind of environmental damage. 

QUESTION:  The tsunami, multinational tsunami warning system is needed, and you agree with that. And who is going to be the center to set up that system? 

SECRETARY POWELL:  I think that is what has be decided by the regional partners all coming together. The Japanese will be holding a conference later this month on disaster preparedness and that is the place for this to be discussed. I expect it will also be discussed at the ASEAN plus conference that will be held in Jakarta on the 6th of January. And so where it will be located and how it will be paid for, all of this remains to be seen.

But what I have heard from my Thai colleagues, the Foreign Minister today, was that Thailand is interested in participating in such a regional arrangement but, because the need is so great, if the regional arrangement is going to take too long, then Thailand might have to move on its own, But they are committed to providing a warning system for Thai citizens, either separately or as a part of a regional arrangement. 

QUESTION:  For the Indonesian meeting, do you have any specific proposal to propose at the meeting?

SECRETARY POWELL:  We, of course, have made it clear that we will do everything that is necessary to support the countries in the region. We have made an initial contribution of funds that is now up to $350 million. American private citizens are coming forward and as you saw yesterday President Bush announced his father, President Bush, and President Clinton would be working together to encourage Americans to give generously. So we will let everyone know on Thursday what the United States is prepared to do.

But this is not a United States conference. This is a conference that has been called by the ASEAN nations and the rest of us are joining it. Secretary General Annan will be here to discuss what the UN is doing. And so the United States will be there to describe what we are doing and to demonstrate to everyone at the conference that we are prepared to do more in response to specific needs. 

QUESTION:   You mentioned that a long-term construction plan is needed. Do you have any ideas about that, what kind of a long-term plan is needed?

SECRETARY POWELL:  Each nation will have to decide what it needs to do to repair its infrastructure and provide for its people. Thailand is for the most part able within its own financial resources to do the rebuilding and the reconstruction, but we are willing to assist in any way we can.

Nations such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka have bigger problems. Indonesia especially, the losses are much greater than anywhere else, and they don't have quite the resources that Thailand has. So we have to make a plan for each country that is unique to that country and unique to that country's needs. And so the United States, rather than saying this is what we are going to do for the region, it is a matter of saying, this is what we can do to help Thailand, this is what we can do to help Indonesia, and the needs are considerably different. 

QUESTION:  The U.S. government was criticized in the way they responded to this disaster. Some were saying it was too slow and the first budget was too little. What do you think about it? 

SECRETARY POWELL:  Well, who criticized us? It wasn't the countries in the region. As the Foreign Minister of Thailand said, my good friend, said on television a little while ago, the first phone call he received from anyone was from me. And what I said to him is, "let me know what you need and you can count on the United States." And within hours, United States planes were arriving. In that first phone call, he estimated that a few hundred people had been lost. We did not know the scale of this disaster until we got into it days later. So it went from 300 lost to thousands lost within four days. And so the United States made initial contributions of money as we made an assessment of what the need was. and as we got information as to the extent of the problem. And as the problem scaled up, the United States scaled up, just as the Japanese did. The Japanese initially made a small investment of money, but when they saw the scale of the problem, they moved it up to $500 million dollars.

So I just don't accept the criticism that some in the media have given to the United States that we were slow. I called all the ministers right away. The President spoke to heads of governments and states within 48 hours and we have put our military on the ground, our ships are in the region, we have increased significantly our financial contribution. And, of those that would like to criticize the United States, it is not the countries who are receiving the benefits of our assistance. They are very pleased to receive our assistance and they have been very complimentary of what we have done with them.

QUESTION:  During this tragic moment, do you think that there will be any hope for areas of conflict just like in Aceh and in Sri Lanka, for the peace for the future?

SECRETARY POWELL:  We hope so. We hope that in both Indonesia the conflict between resistance elements in Aceh and the government, and the Tamil Tigers and the government of Sri Lanka will realize that this is the time to come together and to help our people. And they are our people - whether you are on one side of the issue or the other - they are your people. And perhaps out of this effort to help the people in these two countries, opportunities will be found for political compromise and a political solution to end these two long-standing crises, which in their own way are disasters. Just as surely are they disasters as was the tsunami. So maybe we can get over these disasters and find areas for reconciliation. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL:  I would just like to close, if I may, by extending once again the condolences of the American people to the Thai people. They are our friends. Their nation and our nation have been allies for many years and I extend my deepest sympathy to the Thai people over the losses they have suffered.

QUESTION:  Thank you, thank you so much.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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