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Foreign countries waiting for U.S. to approve relief

Thu., Sept. 8, 2005

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – For four days, a C-130 transport plane ready to lift supplies to Katrina victims has stood idle at an air base in Sweden. The aid includes a water purification system that may be urgently needed amid signs deadly diseases could be spreading through fetid pools in New Orleans.

The one thing that stands in the way of takeoff? Approval by U.S. officials.

Although some foreign aid is on the way to the U.S., many international donors are complaining of frustration that bureaucratic entanglements are hindering shipments to the United States.

“We have to get some kind of signal (from the U.S.) in the next few days,” said Karin Viklund of the Swedish Rescue Services Agency. “We really hope we will get it.” Aside from water purification units, the country has offered blankets and mobile network equipment.

The United States has accepted offers of nearly $1 billion in assistance from some 95 countries, said Harry K. Thomas Jr., the State Department’s executive secretary. One of those rejected came from Iran. The U.S. has accepted Switzerland’s offer for tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, bedding, crutches. It made the offer Tuesday night.

Tehran offered to send 20 million barrels of crude oil if Washington waived trade sanctions, but Thomas said the offer was rejected because it was conditional. The sanctions were imposed after militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took its occupants hostage in 1979.

Thomas said “every country has heard from us, all have been told their offers are being evaluated and that ‘we may take your offers later.”’

But Poland, Austria and Norway said they had not heard back on their aid offers, and countries outside Europe said they were also waiting for replies:

“ India, which regularly is hit by flooding from monsoon rains, has said it has a planeload of supplies waiting. The United States said Thursday night that it has accepted $5 million in aid.

“ Taiwan said it was waiting to hear for guidance its $2 million pledge. The U.S. said late Monday that it has the financial offer along with medical supplies.

“ The government also said in a statement Thursday that it had accepted South Korea’s promised aid of $30 million and 100 tons of goods such as blankets, diapers, crutches, bunk beds and wheelchairs. South Korea had promised the aid by this weekend. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Lee Kyu-hyung said Wednesday the delivery will likely be delayed until next week as “preparations are not going well.”

Even Honduras – the second-poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean – has offered aid. It was told by the U.S. Embassy that “at this moment, the U.S. government is not asking for international assistance.”

However, some countries said they received detailed requests for help from U.S. authorities and have started shipping supplies.

European Commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich said “the coordination effort is going much, much better because aid is now leaving and aid is arriving.”

She said glitches are to be expected. “The Europeans and the Americans had to learn to work together,” she said. “Coordination is the most difficult thing in any relief effort.”


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