France: We're the No. 1 Aid Donor

One-upping the United States, France said Thursday it is the No. 1 donor for the Asian disaster — pledging 42 million euro ($57 million) — following barbs from Washington about the extent of French generosity.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's (search) boast that France was vaulting to "the head of all the contributors" appeared to respond to comments from Andrew Natsios (search), chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which distributes American aid.

In a FOX News interview this week, Natsios said France tends not to be a world leader in foreign aid and often packages its help as loans, which he suggested were inappropriate in emergencies.

"The aid program in France is not that big," he said. "They do not tend to be dominant figures in the aid. The British are, the European Union is, the Japanese are, we are, the Canadians are."

In Paris, France's Foreign Ministry shot down those aspersions. Spokesman Herve Ladsous said French aid for tsunami victims "is clearly donations and not loans."

He also said France gives more development aid than all other members of the Group of Eight industrial nations — which includes the United States — when measured as a proportion of its economic output.

"The figures speak for themselves," said Ladsous.

France allotted .41 percent of its gross national income to development aid in 2003, nearly triple the .15 percent from the United States, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (search).

But the United States led in dollar terms, donating US$16.2 billion (euro11.9 billion) to France's US$7.2 billion (euro5.3 billion) — which ranked third among G-8 nations, OECD figures show. Japan ranked second.

Since Sunday's earthquake off Indonesia and ensuing giant waves, the United States has announced an initial US$35 million (euro26 million) aid package — but also faced suggestions from a U.N. official and others that it has been stingy or slow to react.

France first announced euro22 million (US$30 million) — only for President Jacques Chirac to order that doubled Thursday. That led to the pledge from his prime minister, Raffarin, of an additional euro20 million (US$27.2 million) to prevent epidemics.

Chirac, echoing calls from Germany and Italy, said France would press the Paris Club of creditor nations for a debt moratorium for affected countries. He also called for the creation of a worldwide alert system for temblors and tsunamis and for a European Union reconstruction fund for the disaster.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, back from a tour of affected areas in Thailand and Sri Lanka, recommended that nations go beyond the relief and reconstruction coalition formed by the United States, India, Australia and Japan and laid out by U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday.

"Of course there needs to be a humanitarian action coalition — as President Bush just proposed," Barnier said. "But there also needs to be another international coalition against poverty, for development."

France's confirmed death toll climbed to 22, with 244 injured. Another 560 were missing, and "their families are waiting anxiously for indications of life, of hope," Raffarin said.

A military plane carrying 10 coffins was heading to Asia to bring home French victims, officials said.