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Nations Step Up Aid Offers

In an accelerating drive to help the United States, more than three dozen countries have pledged assistance in the Katrina hurricane disaster.

Several international organizations including UNHCR, WHO, the European Commisssion and the Organization of American States have also offered aid, said CBS News State Dept. Reporter Charlie Wolfson.

The offers blur political lines. Cuba and Venezuela, for instance, have offered to help despite differences with Washington. Oil giant Saudi Arabia and tiny countries like Dominica, are among the nations making pledges.

Australia announced a donation of $8 million to the American Red Cross. "The United States is so often at the forefront of international aid efforts to help less fortunate nations," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

"So it is only fitting that Australia should contribute to the daunting task of helping the thousands of American citizens whose lives have been thrown into turmoil by this unprecedented disaster," he said.

Japan announced it would contribute $200,000 to the American Red Cross for its relief operations. Upon request, Japan is prepared to provide up to $300,000 in tents, blankets, power generators, portable water tanks, and other equipment, the Japanese embassy said.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was meeting with U.S. Ambassador William Timken over providing medical supplies, vaccination teams, water purification units and management experts.

The United States took the lead in rebuilding Germany after World War II with the Marshall Plan and steered Japan toward democracy. The United States historically has aided victims of disasters, but it has sometimes been criticized for not doing more.

In July, for instance, President George W. Bush resisted British Prime Minister Tony Blair's ambitious goals for assisting Africa, though Bush took steps to double U.S. aid to more than $8.6 billion by 2010.

The United States, the world's largest economy, lags behind other rich nations in the percentage of its giving to nations in Africa, the world's poorest continent.

Venezuela, a target of frequent criticism by the Bush administration, offered humanitarian aid and fuel. Venezuela's Citgo Petroleum Corp. pledged a $1 million donation for hurricane aid.

The United Nations informed U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton it was prepared to support the relief effort "in any way possible." Under Secretary-General Jan Egeland said his office had offered the services of the U.N.'s disaster assistance and coordination teams to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Organization of American States contributed $25,000 to the American Red Cross.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wrote Bush offering hundreds of doctors, nurses, technicians and other experts in trauma, natural disasters and public health.

"We also offer field hospitals, medical kits and equipment for temporary housing, reinforcement for hospitals, or any assistance that you may require," Sharon wrote.

He said the teams and equipment could be ready in 24 hours.

With offers from the four corners of the globe pouring in, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided "no offer that can help alleviate the suffering of the people in the afflicted area will be refused," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday.

Boats, aircraft, tents, blankets, generators, cash assistance and medical teams have been offered to the U.S. government in Washington or in embassies overseas.

State Department officials say they expect FEMA to be making some decisions later Friday on which offers they can match with needs, Wolfson said.

Offers have been received from Russia, Japan, Canada, France, Honduras, Germany, Venezuela, Jamaica, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Hungary, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, China, South Korea, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Guatemala, Paraguay, Belgium, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Italy, Guyana, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia. Austria, Lithuania, Spain, Dominica, Norway, Cuba and Bahamas.

The Singapore embassy said the Southeast Asian country was sending three Chinook helicopters with 38 air force personnel from military exercises in Texas, to Louisiana to support relief efforts by the Texas National Guard.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, in China on a state visit, sent messages of sympathy to Washington while her government contributed $25,000 through the American Red Cross.

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