WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) conferred by video hookup U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) Thursday on assistance to the victims of the Asian and African tsunamis and then added the United Nations to the core group planning relief efforts.
With the death toll rising, European governments were taking soundings on holding an international donors conference Jan. 7, a senior U.S. official said.
The coalition or core group set up Wednesday by President Bush will hold another conference call among top officials Thursday night. Besides the United States, the participants are Australia, India and Japan.
Top officials of the four countries sought to coordinate their efforts to avoid duplication in a conference call Wednesday night. For the second session the United Nations is being added, said the senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Powell, visiting the Embassy of Thailand Thursday to formally extend condolences to the victims of the Asian and African tsunamis, vowed that the administration would follow through on promises of substantial financial assistance.
"You can be sure that the president is determined to do what is necessary to deal with this challenge," he said. "We're working very closely with the international community."
Powell was making a round of visits to the embassies of nations ravaged by the disaster as Rep. Henry J. Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said that he was drafting legislation to assist victims and planned to introduce it early next year.
"The infrastructure of daily life is simply gone," said Hyde, R-Ill.
A congressional delegation headed by Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, a former U.S. foreign service officer, is scheduled to visit Thailand and Sri Lanka next week.
Pledges of U.S. assistance remained at $35 million, but parallel Pentagon spending was spiraling upward and could not be calculated quickly. The relief included the arrival of four C130 cargo planes in Thailand with food, water and sheltering material and a large supply of rice and other food and assistance was due to arrive in Indonesia by New Year's Eve, a senior U.S. official said.
During his visit to the Thai embassy, Powell spoke anew of the death and destruction spawned by the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis. He told reporters that in the last 24 hours, a half-dozen planes from the U.S. Agency for International Development have landed or are en route to nations affected by the tsunamis.
Powell also alluded to the roughly $35 million in emergency aid already committed as "just a beginning."
"It's going to take a lot more," he said. "This is the time to make sure that we get a good needs assessment." The death toll there has reached more than 114,000.
At the Embassy of Indonesia later, Powell wrote a message in a condolence book, expressing the support and sympathy of the American people. He said he had never seen such a tragedy and said that it was "time for us to join together in solidarity."
On Wednesday, Andrew Natsios (search), head of the development agency, told reporters: "Our efforts are focused, with the rest of the international community, on water and sanitation, because that is the greatest risk to people's lives."
"People are drinking sewage water," he said. "That will substantially increase the risk of communicable disease and diarrheal disease, which could kill many people in epidemics, if they get out of control."
U.S. embassy officials continued to hunt for 2,000 to 3,000 Americans who remain unaccounted for in the coastal regions hit by the tsunamis, and asked travelers to check in with families and U.S. diplomatic posts. At least 12 Americans were known dead from Sunday's quake and subsequent tsunamis that struck a dozen countries from Thailand to Somalia.
From airlifts of rice and water purifiers to the deployment of Marine humanitarian assistance teams and warships, the United States marshaled resources across the globe to augment its initial $35 million aid package and make sure the hardest hit locations got the short-term help they requested.