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On-The-Record Briefing With USAID's Ed Fox

On-The-Record Briefing With Assistant Administrator for United States Agency for International Development Ed Fox

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
December 27, 2004

(12:30 p.m. EST)

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I wanted to give you an update on the situation in South Asia as a result of the tsunami and the loss of life that was so tragic. I have just been on the phone a few moments ago with President Bush, where he has been following this situation very closely from Crawford, and as he indicated in the statement that the White House issued yesterday and he has also now written letters to the heads of state of the countries affected, he wants to extend his deepest condolences to the families of those who were lost. This is, indeed, an international tragedy and we're going to do everything we can to assist the nations that have been affected in dealing with this tragedy.

While the loss of any single life is precious, I would also like to take this opportunity to extend particular condolences for the tragic death of [inaudible], who is the son of Princess Ubolratana and grandson of His Majesty King Bhumipol of Thailand. We extend condolences to the royal family.

The United States has been following this situation from the very beginning. Our embassies are working in the affected areas to assist contacting families and others, U.S. citizens who are unaccounted for. At the moment, we know of eight Americans who have died and there are several hundred who are not accounted for yet. It just means we haven't been able to reach out and get contact with them. It does not imply that they are necessarily injured or in any way a casualty.

For family members seeking information about one of their loved ones, they can contact the hotline number that we have, 1-888-407-4747. You can also go to the State Department website to get information about each of the countries involved, and that's state.gov.

Our ambassadors in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, India and Indonesia have provided a total of $400,000 in immediate assistance and we are in discussions with the International Committee of the Red Cross about providing $4 million in the course of the day of the $6.6 million appeal that they have made. We are also examining what other assets might be needed and we'll do everything we can to help.

The United States Pacific Command is also involved in this, of course. They have dispatched some P3 patrol aircraft to the region and the Pacific fleet is examining what else they might be able to do to help in this situation. I have also talked in the course of the last 18 hours to my counterparts in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, India and Malaysia, to reinforce our offers of assistance.

USAID and other elements of the United States Government have been deeply involved. What I'd like to do now, to give you more details with respect to the support we are providing, is to introduce Mr. Ed Fox, who is the Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. He'll give you some details and then I will return to the podium for questions and one or two other issues.

Ed.

MR. FOX: As soon as this tragic incident happened, USAID moved, at the Secretary and the Administrator's direction, to set up and dispatch a Disaster Assistance Response Team, which are our specialists throughout the world. We drew two from the region and we're sending an additional 19, for a total of 21 members, at the moment, which will be in the area to help with sanitation, health and other kinds of relief supplies.

We also draw upon our prepositioned supplies in the region, both from the Philippines and in Dubai, where we have shelter and food. We have water cans, bladders, and things of that nature. The first important thing will be to help in the removal of debris and disaster and to help the people, not only those tragically killed, but the million or more who are also going to be displaced and will need shelter and food and clothing.

As the Secretary had said, not only have we responded, both in terms of the short run, with $400,000 to the various embassies and also a large commitment to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, but it's anticipated that we'll add another -- at least immediately -- another probably $10 million, for a total of about $15 million, in our initial response to this tragedy.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much, Ed.

Before taking questions, I just might take note of the Ukrainian election. This is an historic moment for democracy in Ukraine. While the results of Sunday's election are not yet official, it appears that the Ukrainian people finally had an opportunity to choose freely their next president. As the OSCE observers mission indicated in its statement, while some shortcomings remain, the overall vote brought Ukraine substantially closer to meeting international democratic standards: campaign conditions were more equal; observers received fewer reports of pressure on voters; the election administration was more transparent and the media more balanced than in previous rounds. The Ukrainian people can truly be proud of this achievement.

Throughout the Ukrainian presidential campaign, the United States has supported a democratic process, not a particular candidate. We congratulate Ukrainians for the courage they displayed in standing up for their democratic rights. We call on Ukrainians now to set their divisions behind them and to refrain from violence, separatism or provocations. We have said that we are prepared to work closely with the winner of Sunday's election as long as the election was won in a free and fair contest. We are prepared to move forward on many issues of importance to Ukraine.

With that, let me invite Ed back up and take whatever questions you might have on this or other issues.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ukraine, please?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, let's go to Ukraine first.

QUESTION: Let's try Ukraine. Need it be an open sore, so far as U.S.-Russian relations are concerned? You accused them of meddling. And by the way, I know at least one think tank who says the U.S.'s hands aren't all that clean; they didn't just train judges, you had money going through the National Endowment and, second, going to Yushchenko, that the U.S. was engaged, too.

But anyhow, what's the future? Is this a blot on U.S.-Russian relations?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't think so. And in fact, statements coming out of Moscow today suggest that they will accept the results of the election as well.

We have used for years organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy to assist civic society in learning how to participate in open, free elections, and that is what we have done in this instance as well. And all we wanted to see was a full, free, fair election, and that appears now to be what happened yesterday. And we will wait for the official results, which should be out later this week, and I don't expect this to be a blot on U.S.-Russian relations. We'll move forward.

Ukrainians chose for themselves. They did not choose for the East or for the West. They have to live with both the East and the West. And let's all join together now and see what we can do to help Ukraine.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, an Iraq question. You spoke of free, fair elections in Ukraine. The Iraqi Islamic Party has now announced that it will also boycott the vote. How concerned are you about the fact that Sunnis may not be terribly well represented, and what, if anything, is the Administration doing with the Iraqis to ensure that there will be Sunni representation in the next government?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, as you know, the President of the Iraqi Interim Government and the Prime Minister have made it clear that we're going to go forward with these elections on the 30th of January and it's important that all segments of Iraqi society across the political spectrum participate. I'm aware of the statement that you just made with respect to this one party, although it's not an official statement that they might not participate. We'll have to wait and see whether that turns out to be the case or not.

But we are encouraging all Sunnis and all Sunni leaders to join in this effort to say no to terrorism, no to murder, and yes to democracy. We are also talking to all of our friends in the region, the neighboring countries that have influence and contacts with the Sunni community, to get them to encourage Sunni leaders to turn out the vote.

This is, I think, an essential aspect of the Iraqi Interim Government and the coalition government -- coalition's process of moving forward, to have this election on the 30th of January, with maximum participation. Obviously, security is an issue and that's what our commanders and the Iraqi Government is working on now, to improve security conditions so that people will feel safe in coming out.

It's interesting that even with difficult security conditions, people are working to put in place polling stations, to put in place the infrastructure needed to have an election, even within the Sunni areas.

Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there were published reports in the past few days that in meeting with the President and Tony Blair, you suggested that there be more troops, more boots on the ground in Iraq. One, is that true? And, two, what sort of reaction did you get from both men?

SECRETARY POWELL: It was a pretty straightforward conversation. I normally don't speak of these kinds of conversations that took place in the Oval Office, but I will in this instance. And we were talking about the situation on the ground. And I said that there was a need for more troops on the ground and the solution to that problem was the buildup of Iraqi forces, which is what we are doing, which is what General Petraeus is all about, what a lot of money is going into.

And so President Bush noted it, as did Prime Minister Blair, and it wasn't a shocking statement or anything that they were surprised about because that is our strategy, and I was just reinforcing the need for us to build up Iraqi forces as rapidly as possible because they are the ones who ultimately will have to dominate the ground, take control of the terrain.

QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up? Apparently, according General Petraeus and others, that's not going as well as one would hope, or at least as well as the U.S. had hoped. Do you think that the Iraqi forces will, by the end of next year, be able to maintain security of their country, as General Casey said?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is a difficult task to create military forces and police forces. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes equipment. General Petraeus has got a plan that we're all supporting, and I cannot tell you right now what it's going to look like at the end of 2005. But more and more units are coming inline. Battalions are being trained. Police are coming through the police training system, both in neighboring countries as well as the facilities within Iraq. But we're facing a difficult insurgency and nobody's trying to sell that short. But ultimately, it's going to be Iraqi security forces that are going to be responsible for the security of Iraq.

Let's -- yeah.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I get some clarification, perhaps, from Mr. Fox on the additional funding that you would expect? You said there will probably be 10 million more. Is that money that would then be given to individual governments and not additional money to the Red Cross in its appeal?

And could you also spell your name on camera? There are a lot of people watching live, and I just want to make sure they can [inaudible] appropriately.

Thank you. (Laughter.) Oh, no, no, I didn't do that on purpose, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, right. (Laughter.) Spell your name, Ed.

QUESTION: No, I'm sorry. Is it --?

MR. FOX: E-d.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is it just F-o-x? (Laughter.) I did not do that -- (laughter) -- oh, I'm so embarrassed. I didn't --

MR. FOX: Umm, my name is Fox.

QUESTION: I'm so sorry.

(Laughter.)

MR. FOX: Like the animal.

To your question about money, at this point, we don't know exactly how much of that will be in terms of cash to be disbursed or whether it will be commodities, but we anticipate that our initial reaction to this is going to be in the neighborhood of $15 million. That may increase. It may change. But we haven't divided it up until our DART teams are all on the ground, in place. That's their purpose is to make assessments as to where this money will need and to what purpose. Sometimes it's moving commodities. Other times it's contributions, as it is to the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

QUESTION: So the 4 million will go to the Red Cross, as you envision it --

MR. FOX: Yes, that's part of the --

QUESTION: And the rest of it will go through USAID to where -- to their recommendation --

MR. FOX: At the moment, that's our anticipation, yes.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: We also have to see this not just as a one-time thing. Some 20-plus thousand lives have been lost in a few moments, but the lingering effects will be there for years. The damage that was caused, the rebuilding of schools and other facilities, will take time. So you need a quick infusion to stabilize the situation, take care of those who have been injured, get immediate relief supplies in, and then you begin planning for the longer haul.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary --

SECRETARY POWELL: A follow-up?

QUESTION: Just to follow you up, yes. I mean, I'm not putting it as, you know, [inaudible] of clearing up possibly inaccurate published reports. One deals with the advice, the Blair and Bush meeting. The published report was you spoke of increasing American troops --

SECRETARY POWELL: I did not.

QUESTION: The account I was given -- you were talking about Iraqi troops, and that's correct, isn't it?

SECRETARY POWELL: I told you what I said.

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't -- I can't account for the rest of the article.

QUESTION: Okay.

SECRETARY POWELL: But to refresh my memory, I went back and looked specifically at the memorandum of conversation, and the point I was making is that the solution to the problem of needing more troops is not going to be solved by more coalition troops as much as it's going to be solved by more Iraqi troops, and the article made some connection to announcements that were made later. Well, you'll have to ask the author of the article.

QUESTION: No, we got that account. And the other thing, there's another published report about telling the Sunnis that they can have a disproportionate share of the seats in the assembly.

SECRETARY POWELL: I would be delighted --

QUESTION: That also sounds a little bit whacky.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't write them. I just --

QUESTION: No, I know. But we've got to check them when they're --

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I will answer it. The Transitional Administrative Law provides for 275 seats in the Transitional National Assembly. There is no provision in the Transitional Administrative Law for those seats to be selected in any other manner than by the election. That's it.

With respect to the idea that you could then add more seats through some process and go up to a higher number of seats, that is also not provided for in the Transitional Administrative Law. The United States Government has not been participating in any discussion with Iraqi leaders as to how you might change the Transitional Administrative Law to affect an increase in the size of the national assembly. And even if somebody would wish to do that, you can't do it until there is a national assembly to deal with this.

Now, when the national assembly is selected as a result of the election on the 30th of January, they will create a transitional administration. That transitional administration and its composition, the leadership and the ministers that will be in that transitional government, that is something to be decided by the Iraqi government at that time.

QUESTION: One on Ukraine. Back to Ukraine. As you look to support the new government and its ambitions for greater integration with European and the U.S. institutions, what specifically can you do to help them, and is there anything concrete that you're looking for the government to do?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have, of course, relations with Ukraine and we have regular contact with them. We don't believe that it is in anyone's interest to suggest that Ukraine belongs either to the East or the West. It belongs to the world. Ukrainians own Ukraine. And what we're going to do is work with the Ukrainians to help them achieve their dreams and aspirations, help them improve their economy, and to help them improve their relations with us and with the rest of the world.

And so we will wait until the election results have been certified and there is a new government, and then we will engage with the new government as to how best they think we can assist them in their efforts to move forward with respect to economic development, civil society, military-to-military relations. And I'm quite confident that the new Ukrainian Government will be seeking the same kind of dialogue with the Russian Federation, with the European Union and all of the other countries in the region that it wishes to have good relations with.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, going back to Asia [inaudible] disaster. Many countries are already commending the United States, especially you, for acting fast, or help is on the way. My question, Mr. Secretary, that as far as your estimate, that how many countries, or if any countries officially have requested the United States for help?

And also, it's been now four years that you have been dealing with these Asian countries, and especially with India. Where do you put, as we enter the new year 2005 -- India and U.S. relations, sir?

SECRETARY POWELL: On the, I think, one -- we have one official request, Ed, that you may be aware of. I think Sri Lanka but I'm --

MR. FOX: Sri Lanka.

SECRETARY POWELL: Sri Lanka has made an official formal request for a particular kind of assistance. And all of the other countries, when I spoke to their foreign ministers, I said, please let us know what you need through our embassy. And so all of that is working and being coordinated by our OFDA and AID officials.

As we enter 2005, I think U.S.-Indian relations are on a very strong foundation. We have worked hard at it over the last four years. We have a new strategic plan that we're working with the Indian Government on. We've also maintained good relations with all of our other friends in the region, all of the nations, for example, who have been affected by this terrible tragedy, and also by the relations we have been able to create with Pakistan.

And what we have tried to show to South Asia is that the United States can deal with each country in a separate strong bilateral relationship and through that technique also assist them to solve regional problems. And I'm sure that will be continued into the next administration as well.

QUESTION: If I could follow up, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, please, please. Yeah.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, following up on your earlier response about Iraq, do you think the Sunnis ought to be assured of a certain number of senior government folks in the next government, regardless of Sunni participation in the election?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think that for the government to be representative and for the government to be effective, the Transitional National Assembly would certainly have to take into account the ethnic mix of the country and find a way to make sure that all segments of the country believe that they are playing a proper role in the government.

That's the way in which the Iraqi Interim Government was formed and the current ministries operate, and it would seem to me to be sensible for the transitional government to do the same thing. But this is a matter for the Transitional National Assembly and the transitional government to work out. The United States will certainly assist them and help them and consult with them, but this is a matter for them to make judgments on and make decisions on, not for the United States.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, back on the Iraq elections there. Given the possibility of boycotts, given the possibility of intimidation and violence, is the United States making any contingency plans for the possibility that these elections will not, for whatever reason, turn out to be credible in the eyes of the international community?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are working to have successful elections on the 30th of January. We are working with the Iraqi Interim Government, and the leadership of that government is committed to these elections. Obviously, security is a concern and we're doing everything we can to ensure, with the Iraqi Interim Government, conditions of security that will permit all of the population to vote.

There are different suggestions out as to what would happen if only a certain number of Sunnis were to participate or there were a particular part of the country that wasn't able to participate, and I can't deal with these hypotheticals. Right now, we're moving steadily forward to have election by all provinces, and anyone who wants to go to a polling station on the 30th of January, to do so.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, other sections, especially in Africa, are worsened. And this morning, Tony Blair announced that he will be hopefully sending 3,000 troops into Darfur, that region, because the AU is slow to move. Also, it's no secret, but the Russians and Chinese have been funneling in small weapons into that section. And what can you do to pressure both of those governments --

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm not aware of the report about the UK, so I can't comment on that. I spoke to Secretary Straw earlier today. He did not mention that. And I don't have anything to say about the second point you mentioned because I don't have that information.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on the tsunami, what advice do you have for Americans who want to donate and provide help and some sort of assistance to the people, to the victims? Also, do you see a significant role for the U.S military, especially in terms of search and recovery efforts?

SECRETARY POWELL: The United States Pacific Command is looking at this very question now, the second question that you raised. And as I mentioned, they're sending some reconnaissance aircraft and our sea-based forces are moving into the area to see what can be done. The first thing you have to do is make an assessment of what can be done usefully, and then bring the assets that you have to bear.

With respect to the first question, I think there -- I don't know if you have it with you, Ed, the particular place you can make donations. We'll get it to you. Adam will look it up. It's already on some of the television stations. They're showing UN addresses and places where you can make donations, and we'll get that to you.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you talk about the initial infusion of assistance in that region. Have you heard, or is there any consideration for help for U.S. economic interests in the region? Have you heard of any disaster plans in that regard?

SECRETARY POWELL: In terms of our business presence out there or factories, no, I haven't received any information on that yet. We've really been focusing on the humanitarian aspects of this. And I'm sure that kind of issue will come up, as we get further into this crisis. I don't think you have any on it.

MR. FOX: Saving lives.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, one question on China. The new Chinese defense white paper just released also emphasized the possibility of a [inaudible] in cross-strait. Combined with the anti-secession law they were promoting now, would you agree there is a negative train has been triggered, instead of a peaceful dialogue that you have been promoting in the past few months in cross-strait relations?

Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: We are still committed to our "One China" policy, of course, that rests on the three communiqués and our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, and we have always encouraged both parties to find ways to reach out to one another. I'm aware that there is modernization-taking place in the Chinese armed forces and we are monitoring that closely and we're in conversations with our Chinese colleagues about it.

And so I don't see reason for immediate concern at the moment. I think everybody realizes that this is not the time to escalate tension in the straits and we hope that that will continue to be the case, that tension --

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I really have to move on --

QUESTION: Do you know anything about a new bin Laden tape [inaudible]?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't know anything about a new bin Laden.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Happy New Year.

SECRETARY POWELL: Happy New Year, everybody. 2004/1400 [End]

Released on December 27, 2004

ENDS

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