Powell defends US response to aid effort



The US Secretary of State Mr Colin Powell today reaffirmed his country's commitment to tsunami relief efforts and defended the Bush administration's response to what he called one of the world's worst catastrophes.

Mr Powell, who was leaving today for a first-hand assessment of the situation in South Asia, planned to meet leaders in the region to see what more the United States can do.

This is "one of the most massive relief efforts ever mounted in response to one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever seen," Mr Powell said.

In the first days after the disaster, the United States pledged $35 million, which critics called meagre considering the vast wealth of the nation. President George W Bush decided on Friday to increase that aid to $350 million.

Mr Powell was quick to defend the administration's efforts against criticism from UN officials and members of Congress who said the US was slow to respond with financial aid.

"The American response has been appropriate. It has been scaled up as the scale of the disaster became more widely known," Mr Powell said. "It's been seven days and in seven days, we have launched a carrier battle group. We have launched an amphibious battle group. We have contributed $350 millions. We have assessment teams all over. We have energised the private sector. We have put together a core group that has assisted these nations. The nations involved are very pleased," he said.

During his trip to Asia, Mr Powell said he will focus on assessing the needs of the countries hit by the tsunami. One of the biggest problems, he said, was delivering the aid to the most devastated areas. He would also look at what will be required for reconstruction efforts.

Mr Powell was to visit Indonesia, site of the largest loss of life, and Thailand. He also said he hoped to make a stop in Sri Lanka. The president's brother, Florida Govenor Mr Jeb Bush, was among the officials and experts accompanying Mr Powell on the trip.