Bush Calls on His Father, Clinton to Help Raise Tsunami Aid

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, January 4, 2005, (ENS) - In a bid to boost U.S. relief to survivors of last week's tsunami, President George W. Bush on Monday enlisted two former presidents - his father President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton - to head a national effort to solicit charitable contributions "both large and small" from American citizens.

The devastation from the natural disaster "defies comprehension," said Bush, who asked "every American to contribute as they are able to do so."

More than 140,000 people in South Asia and Africa are known to have perished from the tsunami - a tragic death toll almost certain to increase.

The natural disaster has left some five million people homeless and several million in dire need of food aid, clean water and medical supplies.

The President has faced criticism for the initial pace and scope of the U.S. government's response to the disaster and for his failure to publicly comment on the disaster until December 29, three days after a massive undersea earthquake off the coast of Indonesia triggered the tsunami.

An initial U.S. pledge of $15 million was raised to $35 million and on Friday Bush increased that figure tenfold - to $350 million. presidents

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush (left), a Republican, and Bill Clinton, a Democrat, joined President Bush for Monday's announcement. (Photo courtesy White House)
According to the United Nations, some 40 nations have pledged more than $2 billion for the tsunami relief effort, led by the Japanese government, which has promised $500 million.

Flanked by the senior Bush and Clinton, the President said the two former presidents had joined him "to express our country's sympathy for the victims of a great tragedy and to ask our fellow citizens to join in a broad humanitarian relief effort."

Bush called the former presidents "two of America's most distinguished private citizens" who know "the great decency of our people."

He told reporters the former presidents would ask Americans to donate directly to reliable charities already providing help to tsunami victims.

"Many of these organizations have dispatched experts to the disaster area, and they have an in-depth understanding of the resources required to meet the needs on the ground," Bush said. "In this situation, cash donations are most useful."

The former presidents will visit cities across the nation on a media tour designed to increase donations from private citizens and corporations.

Bush praised "innovative efforts" by Americans that have already raised millions of dollars for the tsunami victims, including the sale of personal items on the Internet, the donation of sales proceeds, and corporate matching for employee cash contributions.

"The greatest source of America's generosity is not our government - it is the great heart of the American people," the President said.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters he did not know if President Bush has yet made a personal donation to relief efforts, but said the President intends to make one.

Both Bush Sr. and Clinton joined the President and First Lady Laura Bush on Monday for brief visits to embassies of four nations - India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand - most affected by the tsunamis.

Bush said the U.S. government is in close contact with the governments of the affected countries and is "playing a leading role in the relief and recovery efforts." presidents

The tsunami devastated the Indonesian province of Aceh. (Photo by Agus Muldya courtesy Jakarta Independent Media Center)
U.S. military aircraft have been aiding recovery efforts for several days, surveying damage and delivering supplies, and Bush promised additional support in the near term.

"Other naval and Marine assets will arrive shortly to generate clean water and provide further logistical help," he said.

Bush has also directed U.S. flags to fly at half-staff to honor the victims of the disaster.

A U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Governor Jeb Bush arrived in the Thailand Monday for a four day trip through the region affected by the tsunami.

The two men will meet with government officials and international organizations to assess relief efforts now under way, as well as long-term needs.

Fifteen Americans have been confirmed dead, according to U.S. officials, with some 4,000 to 5,000 still missing.

"Secretary Powell and Governor Bush will report their findings directly to me so we can ensure that our government provides the most effective assistance possible," Bush said.

The office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., a Tennessee Republican, released a statement Monday saying that he will visit the tsunami ravaged countries of Sri Lanka and India next week.

Frist is traveling to get a first-hand account of the areas devastated by the tsunami and the plight of the peoples impacted by it. He wants to observe U.S. aid agencies in action to ensure American assistance is flowing as efficiently and effectively as possible, the statement said.

Frist commented on Monday's White House announcement offering additional support for the region. "The Presidentís commitment today is another strong step forward in helping the needy in the region. I look forward to acting to support this and any other necessary funding requests as a supplemental to the FY 2005 budget as quickly as feasible."

Information on making donations to aid the tsunami relief effort can be round at the USA Freedom Corps website at www.usafreedomcorps.gov.