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Colin Powell Press Conference

Aired January 7, 2005 - 05:44   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Actually, we're going to break away for a live event happening right now in Colombo, Sri Lanka. That's where Secretary of State Colin Powell is now. He just left Galle where he toured the damage.
Let's listen to what he has to say.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: And it's more than just walls that have been knocked down or buildings that have been crushed, but lives that were crushed and snuffed out. I conveyed to the president, and through her all Sri Lankans, that the United States is in solidarity with Sri Lanka. The president has already extended his condolences to the families of those who were lost.

But we're going to do more than that. We're going to provide support working with the international community. American U.S. Agency for International Development personnel are hard at work delivering food assistance, medical assistance, providing shelter.

But we're going to do more. Four million dollars of goods are being distributed now. Another $10 million is going to be spent on employment programs that will employ Sri Lankans in the clean up and reconstruction effort and start the economy going again in those parts of the country that were hit hardest.

In addition, I'll announce right now that another $10 million will be going to Sri Lanka for the purpose of constructing temporary housing in order to get people out from under plastic sheeting and into temporary housing until such time as permanent housing can be made available.

So the total U.S. contribution, at this point, is roughly $25 million or so. And I expect it will go up in the days ahead as we get a better understanding of the needs of the Sri Lankan people.

The president and I also talked about a program called the Millennium Challenge Account. A new initiative of President Bush where we help developing nations that are committed to democracy build their infrastructure. As a result of the tsunami, I suggested to the president she might review the original compact we had drafted with the Sri Lankan government to see if any adjustments need to be made into our planned program to take into account what has happened here.

I will leave the region this afternoon and report to President Bush on Monday morning on all that I have seen in Thailand, in Indonesia and here in Sri Lanka, as well as the reports I received about what happened in other nations in the region. Twelve countries spread over thousands of miles all struck by a single event, a single catastrophe.

And the international community has mobilized in a way that I have never seen before to help the affected people, to rebuild their homes, their schools, their businesses, but above all, to rebuild their lives and to show that the world can be compassionate and caring in the face of this kind of tragedy.

Thank you all for coming, and I'd be delighted to take a few questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we start down here with The Associate Press, please.

POWELL: I can't hear. Can't hear. It's not on.

QUESTION: From what you've seen this week, can you give us an estimate of how long you think the United States will need to be here in great force and great numbers in the region itself?

POWELL: Yes, we will be here for a long period of time. The simple fact that our embassies are here, our USAID missions are here, our military forces are in the region, I can't tell you how long they will stay, there are other missions that have to be performed in due course. Marines will be arriving in greater strength tomorrow. We expect engineer units and some medical personnel to be coming ashore over the next couple of days. But I cannot tell you how long those units will be here.

But in terms of the recovery effort, the principal agent responsible for the recovery effort is the Sri Lankan government. And as long as it takes them to restore infrastructure and reconstruct their society, the United States will be here with them. But the numbers will vary in accordance with the need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, can we try a gentleman here, the tall gentleman with glasses.

QUESTION: Thank you. Have you received any guarantees from the Tamil Tigers or any contact with them regarding aid that might be going their way?

POWELL: I haven't had any contact with them. The reports I received from the government suggest that aid is going into the northern part of the country, those parts of the country that are under their control. The government believes that the Tamil regions are getting as much or more as their proportioned and we'll have to wait and measure that over time. But I know that aid is going up there, but I have had no conversation with any of the members of the LTTE.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, there's a woman in the middle in sunglasses.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. Marines be moving into the uncontrolled areas in order to help with the relief effort? POWELL: The Marines, for the most part, I think will be, and I don't have the details of their plan, but will be working, for the most part, in the southern part of the country. There may be some detachments that go to other parts of the country for medical purposes and up to the north to restore capacity at one of the hospitals. And I will leave it up to the military commander to make judgments as to how best to deploy the forces that he will have available to him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's try the gentleman in the middle, the white haired gentleman.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the Sri Lankan government's relief effort?

POWELL: Yes, I was very impressed at and how quickly they have completed their assessment of losses, of where the priorities need to be and of what they need to do. I think it's been an impressive piece of work. And it certainly gives me confidence they know how to spend the relief money and know how to distribute the supplies and equipment that will be coming in to the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's try the gentleman in the middle, the white haired gentleman.

QUESTION: This is Hector Jourstate (ph). Would you briefly assess the magnitude of the earthquake and tidal wave disaster in this part of the world and its consequences? And I would say that the American aid to Sri Lanka and the other donators (ph) can be described as magnanimous. Your response.

POWELL: Well the impact I think is well known, a 9.0 Richter Scale event that affected so many countries. Our estimates now are that 150,000 people were killed, many more injured and wounded, as well as a number made homeless and impact on economies. Some nations suffered more than others.

The international community is being magnanimous and I think the United States is being magnanimous. I contacted the foreign minister of Sri Lanka within the first 24 hours. The president spoke to the president of Sri Lanka within 48 hours. And aid began flowing immediately, in small quantities, initially, of course, until we could surge our capability and until we had a better understanding of what the need was.

Remember in those first 24 to 48 hours, the numbers were rather low, compared to what they turned out to be by the end of the week. And as the scale of the disaster became clear, the United States rapidly scaled up, not only its financial pledge, but it rapidly scaled up military presence, launched more ships to come into the region. And we will continue to assess the situation throughout the region and we will scale up our contribution as necessary.

Of the $350 million that we have pledged, we have allocated or distributed roughly in the neighborhood of $50 million. So there's quite a line of credit that's still out there for us to use. And if $350 million turns out not to be enough in the grand scheme of things, I'm quite confident the president will review that and see what else the United States should do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, we have time for one more question. Can we try the lady in the middle in the sunglasses?

QUESTION: Considering the significant U.S. presence in Sri Lanka present, what is the role of the U.S. going to be in the future in Sri Lanka's peace process?

POWELL: As you know, we have always tried to play a helpful role working with our Norwegian colleagues. I have followed the situation here very closely. My Deputy Secretary Mr. Armitage has been deeply involved in the process. I don't think a military presence in any way shapes or affects the political situation.

Ultimately the problem has to be solved between the parties concerned. The United State military presence is strictly for humanitarian purposes and not in any way to influence political outcome one way or the other.

We are hopeful, however, that if all Sri Lankans come together to deal with this common catastrophe, this common crisis, and work with each other and cooperate with each other, then perhaps that spirit of cooperation can be elevated and extended into the political dialogue and find a way forward to a political solution to this long-standing crisis between the government and LTTE.

OK, thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

COSTELLO: And you've been listening to Secretary of State Colin Powell from Colombo, Sri Lanka, talking about the extra aid that America is going to give for the tsunami victims there.

You can see the waiting plane behind them. He will leave shortly for Kenya for a signing of a peace accord in southern Sudan.


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