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Relief Activities Related to Hurricane Katrina

On International Relief Activities Related to Hurricane Katrina

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
On-The-Record Briefing
Washington, DC
September 2, 2005

(5:05 p.m. EDT)

SECRETARY RICE: Good afternoon. On behalf of the employees of the State Department, our hearts and prayers go out to every citizen who has been affected by Katrina. I want every American to know that their government is doing everything it can to help get relief to those in need as quickly as possible.

Recently, we have seen the American people respond generously to help others around the globe during their times of distress, such as during the recent tsunami. Today, we are seeing a similar urgent, warm and compassionate reaction from the international community in response to Katrina.

I want to express the heartfelt thanks of the President, the United States Government and all Americans, to the leaders and citizens of the many nations and international organizations that have already offered kind and generous support. Organizations like the United Nations, NATO, the Organization of American States, the European Union, and others are showing their solidarity with us during this time.

You have the updated list of countries from every corner of the globe that are offering their help, countries like Canada and Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Israel, China, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, El Salvador, Australia, Turkey and many others. I want to note in particular that we received a generous offer of support from Sri Lanka, a country that, as we speak, is still recovering from its own massive natural disaster. Every contribution is important; and over the past few days, I have been in contact with a wide range of officials from other nations and international organizations to respond to these offers of support.

The State Department is coordinating closely with the Department of Homeland Security to match these offers of support with the needs on the ground. Some of the needs will be longer-term needs as those areas and citizens hit by Katrina recover and begin to rebuild their lives, their families and their futures. In my discussions with my counterparts I've been heartened at their offers of both short-term and long-term support.

Many private citizens across the globe also want to donate their personal funds to help. As I've talked with my counterparts around the world, I have encouraged them to urge their citizens to donate Katrina relief through the Red Cross. Here at the State Department, we have established a task force to manage our components of the response that are being coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security. This includes assistance from the United States Agency for International Development. USAID experts are already working at the Department of Homeland Security's Emergency Center, drawing on their experience in working disasters around the world. A wide range of USAID equipment is also being deployed, from their zodiac-like boats to large chain saws to help clear trees and other roadblocks.

We are doing everything we can to help those in need here at home in America, and we are also working closely with other governments to help them locate and assist their citizens.

On a personal note, as you know, my family is from Alabama. My father was born and raised in Louisiana. The pictures are pictures that I, in many cases, know well. And I just want to say to the people of the hard-hit Gulf region that our prayers and thoughts, and my personal prayers and thoughts, are with them. I am going to travel this Sunday to Alabama to tour the disaster area, to meet with senior officials and Americans in need, and to receive briefings on the latest situation there.

And now I'm happy to take a few questions.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there was a report yesterday that Russia has been refused -- I mean that its offer has been turned down. Is there anything to that?

SECRETARY RICE: We have turned down no offers. I think that, obviously, when something like this happens -- we had a task force set up, we had to make certain that everybody knew the vehicle to use to channel contributions.


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, no offer has been turned down, but according to FEMA, from them at least, no offer has been accepted yet. I mean, what good is it to have, you know, nearly 60 countries step forward and offer assistance and apparently, at least as far as FEMA is concerned, they haven't been able to accept any of those offers?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, as we are speaking or perhaps just a little bit before we were speaking, there is a group that is working. Harry Thomas, who is the Executive Secretary here at the State Department and is the person who is in charge of coordinating this international effort, he is working with FEMA to go through the list, to see what might be used in the short term.

Obviously, in some cases, in places like New Orleans, it's a matter of access; but, to see which of the offers can be taken up immediately, which others might need to be taken up somewhat later, but we are matching those offers now to the needs on the ground.


QUESTION: Madame Secretary. This morning, some of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus had some pretty tough words for the federal government. They said that they were outraged, they were ashamed. The implication being that because many of the people who were without food and water over the last five days are poor and black, that food wasn't getting to them quickly enough. Do you think that perhaps there is a kernel of truth to this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I have spoken to some members of the Congressional Black Caucus. I have also spoken to Bruce Gordon of the NAACP and to Mr. Morial of the Urban League. We are all going to need to be in this together. I think everybody's very emotional. It's hard to watch pictures of any American going through this. And yes, the African American community has obviously been very heavily affected. But people are doing what they can for Americans. Nobody wants to see any American suffer.

I was with the President this morning at 7 a.m. for a meeting that he held with Defense and Homeland Security and others to make sure that the effort is as robust as humanly possible. Nobody wants to see any American suffer, and I think everybody understands that; but it's a deeply emotional time. This part of the country has been very hard hit. This is something we haven't seen in the United States and, as a result, I think there is a lot of emotion. But I can tell you that everybody is doing everything possible, and everybody wants to see these people taken care of.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you have a Passport Office in New Orleans.


QUESTION: Have officials gotten to it yet?


QUESTION: And have you been in touch with all the people who work there?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. We do have a Passport Office, about 165 employees work there. It is one of our busiest and most efficient Passport Offices, there in New Orleans. I spoke with both the Director and Deputy Director of the office. They are both safe with families in other parts of the South. We are reaching out through all means that we have for our employees. We've heard back from a number of people. We have not heard back from everybody. We suspect that some of that is just that the communications is very difficult in New Orleans at this point. We are also, obviously, working to secure the office and to get to it as quickly as possible. But, yes, I've been in touch with both the Director and the Deputy Director, and Maura Harty from Consular Affairs has been very actively engaged in working on this problem.

QUESTION: But have they gotten to the Office? Do you know the extent of the damage?

SECRETARY RICE: We know the area in which it's located, and so we have heard from the manager, as I understand it. It is intact, as we understand it; but obviously, with movement restricted in the New Orleans area, we've not wanted to press the system, so to speak. But we are working very actively with U.S. law enforcement officials to try to get to the office as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, just to follow on Andrea's question. Did you speak to the Congressional Black Caucus and the Urban League before the press conference today or --

SECRETARY RICE: I actually talked with Mr. Gordon -- Mr. Gordon reached out to me yesterday. I talked to him very early this morning. I was -- I talked to him, I actually talked to Mr. Morial, I think, just about the time of the press conference. But these were calls that I had planned to make. When I talked to the President yesterday around lunch time, I told him that I wanted to do what I could, obviously, in my capacity as Secretary of State but also to do what I could outside of my capacity as Secretary of State and help in any way that I can. That's why I'm going to go to Alabama.

QUESTION: And are you -- you've spoken very eloquently around the world about growing up as an African American in the South. Are you concerned now that at least the impression is going to exist in this country and abroad that some of the relief has been affected by the race and class of the people most affected?

SECRETARY RICE: I really do believe that people know that Americans don't want Americans to suffer, and this is a very sad situation. I was listening to the First Lady today when she was in Lafayette and she was talking about the fact that, you know, the poor are often some of the hardest hit. And I know New Orleans a little bit. It's a very low-lying area and it's -- people weren't able to get out.

But that Americans would somehow in a color-affected way decide who to help and who not to help, I just don't believe it. Americans are generous to each other; and I think you're seeing that people are opening their homes to people who are displaced and have had to be evacuated. You're going to see more of that. And I just hope that what the world is seeing is that even though we've been hit with something that is unlike anything that we've been hit with before, the generosity of this country and the caring of Americans for Americans is, I think, what is coming through.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, a general foreign policy question. Do you think an event of this magnitude could affect public opinion in terms of support for a strong foreign policy? I mean, the natural reaction here is, "Why are we doing XYZ in Iraq and overseas when we have these problems -- energy prices?" Do you worry about that at all?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, obviously, whenever there is something on the home front, people focus on the home front. But I think Americans are plenty sophisticated in their understanding of the world to know that the United States can't live in isolation. We learned that in a horrible way on September 11th, that our security is inextricably linked to, for instance, events and ideologies in the Middle East. Americans, I think, have always known that when freedom is on the march we're safer, and when freedom's in retreat we're weaker and more vulnerable. And so I'm not concerned that that will be the case.

I also would hope that Americans would look at the response of the international community, which has been warm. I have had numerous phone calls over the last couple of days as this has unfolded from foreign ministers around the world just saying, "If there's anything we can do." I thought that Kofi Annan was particularly eloquent in talking about the fact that America has always been there for affected places and that now the world needs to be there for America. And I hope that too will remind Americans that we're all part of the same community.

Maybe a couple more. Yes.

QUESTION: Does it really make sense to accept money from these poorer nations? We probably already give aid to them and, in effect, we'd just be turning around and giving the money back.

SECRETARY RICE: I think there is something that is very valuable in people being able to give to each other and to be able to do so without a sense of means, so to speak. And I was myself deeply touched by what Sri Lanka has wanted to do. I think people are just reaching out to the United States. And we're very grateful that people are reaching out to the United States.

Last question? Yeah. Oh, okay. Yes, and then Jonathan you've got a question.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that you had a phone conversation with the French Foreign Minister about help that France would like to give to Louisiana? And could you give me the answer, please?

SECRETARY RICE: I did talk to the French Foreign Minister, to Mr. Douste-Blazy, this afternoon. And he talked about some pre-positioned equipment that they had not far from the United States. And I said to him what I've been saying to everyone, which is that we are working very closely with the Department of Homeland Security to match up what is available with what is needed, and that I would get back to him. But I did, indeed, speak with him today.


QUESTION: You said you are going down to the region on Sunday. I'm wondering, it's a very unusual thing for a sitting Secretary of State to do. This is not a traditional duty of a Secretary of State to go on a disaster relief mission like this. Why are you doing it and what do you hope to accomplish down there?

SECRETARY RICE: John, I'm an American and I'm a southern American. I'm an Alabamian by birth. And I just hope that I can be a little bit of an extension for a President who cares deeply about what is going on in the Gulf region but can't be everywhere. And you know, those conditions in New Orleans are so horrific and are requiring so much attention; Mississippi obviously; Alabama has been hard hit and at any other time, might have been the center, really, of this. So I thought that it would be a good thing to go there. The Governor was pleased to have the offer. And so yes, it's a little bit unusual. But as I said, when I talked to the President, I said that, obviously, I would perform my duties as Secretary of State in trying to coordinate the international relief effort, helping Homeland Security in any way that I could, but that I also wanted to do whatever I could that was outside those responsibilities. So that's what I'll do.

Okay. Thank you.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask for permission to come and pick up their citizens? I heard that was the issue with the Russians, that they wanted to send a helicopter to get their citizens.

SECRETARY RICE: Whenever there are foreign citizens, then this becomes a question. We are trying to make sure that any efforts are coordinated because, obviously, transport into certain parts of the South right now is the real problem. And so we're handling it, but I would be surprised if we're not getting those requests and -- I'm sure we are. But right now, we're in very close contact with all foreign governments that have citizens here, or believe that they have citizens here. And by the way, that's not just diplomats and others, but foreign exchange students, we have some diplomats-in-residence -- or some academics-in-residence that we've accounted for. So, we're trying very hard.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you have any comment on the IAEA report?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm sorry, I'll get back to you on it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you very much. Thanks.


Released on September 2, 2005


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