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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 30, 2004

Press Gaggle with Trent Duffy
Crawford Middle School
Crawford, Texas


4:07 P.M. CST

MR. DUFFY: Good afternoon, or good evening. (Laughter.) The President continues to monitor the terrible disaster and the emergency recovery and relief effort underway. And at this point, allow me to read for you a statement by the President: All Americans are shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of life and the destruction around the Indian Ocean. In this hour of critical need, America is joining with other nations and international organizations to do everything possible to provide assistance and relief to the victims and their families. Already, cargo aircraft, support personnel, naval units and aid shipments have been dispatched.

To coordinate this massive relief effort, firsthand assessments are needed by individuals on the ground. On Sunday, January 2nd, the President will send a delegation of experts to the affected areas to meet with regional leaders and international organizations to assess what additional aid can be provided by the United States. The delegation will be led by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Governor Jeb Bush, who has extensive experience in the state of Florida with relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts following natural disasters. The President looks forward to receiving the delegation's assessment of the relief efforts, so that our government can best help those in need.

That was a statement by the President. With that, I will answer your questions, if you have any.

Q Where are they going?

MR. DUFFY: They are going to the affected areas around the Indian Ocean. The State Department will be formulating their travel schedule in the coming days. Of course, obviously, they're being very sensitive not to interfere with the relief effort underway, so that will be planned out over the coming days.

Q Trent, what do you make of the fact that while we've given the initial $35 million in aid, that there are literally millions and millions of dollars being sent in over the Internet by individuals, sometimes even outpacing various government contributions. What do you make of this outpouring of private citizens, via the Internet, donation-wise?

MR. DUFFY: I think it reflects what we've been talking about for the past several days, which is that the American people are some of the most generous on the planet. And we certainly welcome the outpouring of support from the American people and from nations around the globe for this terrible tragedy.

Q Does it surprise you, the use of the Internet this way?

MR. DUFFY: I'm not an Internet critic, Jeff.

Q Today, at the U.N., Kofi Annan was asked if he would go to the region, and he specifically said, well, at this time, available rooms and shelter, that kind of thing, other resources should really be going to people who are displaced and these would be disrupted if, in fact, he were to go, was kind of his feeling. Is the President concerned about the disruption that Secretary Powell and Government Bush's visit might make?

MR. DUFFY: No, as I mentioned, they're going to be very sensitive to not interfere with the relief and recovery efforts underway. All steps will be taken to make sure that whatever resources are available, not to be interfering with the recovery effort will be utilized.

Q Should this action be seen as a sign that the United States government doesn't think the U.N. can handle this?

MR. DUFFY: Absolutely not. We're working in partnership with the United Nations. In fact, the core coalition of countries -- which, of course, includes the United States, Japan, India and Australia -- has been meeting regularly and is being joined by United Nations officials, and I believe Mr. Egeland was part of discussions this afternoon. They're talking on a daily basis, and those efforts will just continue, so working hand-in-glove with the United Nations effort.

Q When was the decision made to send Secretary Powell and Governor Bush? And how long do you expect their visit to last?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have an update on how long. The decision was made in the days following the earthquake, as the President began to think about what best way for the United States to respond to this terrible tragedy.

Q Trent, when Secretary Powell goes to the U.N. tomorrow to visit the Secretary General, will he urge the Secretary General to also go to the region? Or does the White House disagree with Kofi Annan's decision not to go to the region at this time?

MR. DUFFY: I only speak for the United States and what our delegation is going to be doing.

Q Why Jeb Bush, because of his experience of Florida, of similar disasters in Florida?

MR. DUFFY: As the statement by the President said, he has extensive experience in the state of Florida with relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. He's also the President's brother -- I think it signifies the high level of importance that the President puts on this delegation.

Q Given the cost of aid to Asia, the cost of the war, is there any thought being given to toning down some of the lavish inaugural activities?

MR. DUFFY: I think the inaugural activities are paid for out of private contributions, not governmental funds. I would refer you to the Inaugural Committee for an answer for that.

Anything further?

Q Trent, does the President feel that the U.S. --

MR. DUFFY: I think the President addressed that yesterday. The United States is doing everything -- both from an official standpoint, as well as private contributions; we're the world's most generous country, we'll continue to be. The President is very satisfied with the international coalition that's coming together to confront this terrible tragedy. As Secretary Powell said this morning, this is just the beginning, this is going to be a sustained, multi-million, multi-national effort for years to come.

Q Does the President know anyone that's been personally affected by this disaster?

MR. DUFFY: I'm not sure, Matt, but I can ask.

Q I heard that Andrew Natsios said yesterday that the $35 million commitment pretty much wipes out his funds. Is the administration going to be asking for supplementals for emergency relief?

MR. DUFFY: I saw Administrator Natsios address that in the State Department briefing. I think what he was referring to is that because the budget was approved so late in the year that they just had to do some accounting, but that he's got the funds that he needs. But as I said earlier, I mean, obviously, if there are additional resources that are required, I would have every expectation that the President will seek those.

Q There's an awful lot of layers of bureaucracy now between private organizations involved. The U.S., leading the coalition of four, are trying to coordinate all these efforts. Is the President concerned at all that all this -- and the U.N., as well. Is the President concerned that all these layers of bureaucracy is hindering, actually, getting money on the ground as fast as possible?

MR. DUFFY: No, and that's one of the top priorities, as we try to confront this massive tragedy, is to make sure that that doesn't happen. And that's why it's important to proceed at the pace that we are, so that we just don't have a lot of duplication. That's why the core coalition was brought in. That's why we're working hand-in-glove with the United Nations. So our relief agencies are certainly sensitive to that very notion, having confronted other tragedies. And we're taking every effort to avoid that.

Q How much of a factor, or was it a factor -- security concerns, obviously, the infrastructure in these areas, you're talking police officials, all of their resources being marshaled to help the victims, but the security situation on the ground, I'm guessing, in some areas is quite unstable. How much of a factor was that in making the decision to send not only Secretary Powell, but also his brother to the region?

MR. DUFFY: I'm not sure if I understand your question. You're concerned about the security of the delegation traveling to the region?

Q Right.

MR. DUFFY: Well, every step will be taken to ensure their security, as it would --

Q Without --

MR. DUFFY: -- as it would when any delegation travels on behalf of the United States.

Is that it? Thanks.

Hold on, I've got a partial week ahead for you. Clearing brush reminded me of the week ahead, I don't know why.

On Monday, January 3rd, the President will host newly elected members of Congress and their spouses at the White House and make remarks to them. On Tuesday, January 4th, no public events are scheduled at this time. On Wednesday, January 5th, the President will travel to Collinsville, Illinois, where he will make remarks on medical liability reform. And as far as the return time for Sunday, it's in the morning, for guidance purposes. We'll have more to say on that as it firms up, but just to let you know.

Thanks, everyone.

END 4:17 P.M. CST

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