Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday the United States may be able to do more to help identify remains of tsunami victims and pledged U.S. support for a regional warning system in hopes of preventing such massive loss of life from future tsunamis.
Powell assured local leaders they will get full U.S. support,
Getting his first up-close look at heavy damage from last week's undersea earthquake and tsunami, Powell visited the Phuket resort area that is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand for European and American beachgoers.
Powell and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush saw scores of photographs and posters posted outside the town hall seeking information on missing tourists.
Powell's airplane flew slow and low on the in, giving him a close view of flattened houses and ruined beaches.
Powell toured an office where American forensic experts are helping Thai officials identify thousands of bodies that washed ashore and said afterward he will recommend expanding U.S. forensic assistance.
Thai officials told Powell the thing they most want is U.S. help for a warning system in the Indian Ocean and China Sea and Powell pledged U.S. technical help for some kind of a regional warning system.
"We'll do everything we can to contribute," he said.
Discussing U.S. aid in general, Powell said, "The United States has made a significant financial contribution, but we have done much more than that." He cited millions of dollars being raised in private donations in the United States even before President Bush announced Monday in Washington that his father, the first President Bush, and former President Clinton, will spearhead a fund-raising drive.
Powell also noted the massive U.S. military assistance now swinging into high gear that is delivering food, water and supplies and evacuating wounded.
"I think we have demonstrated in recent days our willingness to provide support, not only financial support - but the military support that our Pacific Command is now providing," he said.
Asked whether he believes the official death toll announced for Burma is as low as the official government tally of 59, Powell said control of information in that country is too tight to know whether the figure is correct, but added that he recently saw satellite photographs that indicated Burma was not as badly damaged as some other Indian Ocean countries.
Earlier in Bangkok declared that the United States "will certainly not turn away from those in desperate need" as he works with Asian leaders to speed up relief efforts in the tsunami disaster.
Accompanied by the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the secretary of state Tuesday stressed a two-prong commitment of U.S. financial and military support to help the region recover.
Thailand's foreign minister, Surakiart Sathirathai, said the Thai government would welcome U.S. technical assistance to build an early warning system to guard against tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.
"We are in solidarity with you as you deal with this crisis," Powell responded at a news conference. The United States has faced criticism that it was slow to respond to the Dec. 26 disaster. Other countries were quicker to commit large amounts of aid money, and Japan has outpaced the U.S. total of $350 million pledged so far.
"The aftermath of the tsunami is a tragedy for the entire the world, and the United States will certainly not turn away from those in desperate need," said Powell.
Powell said the biggest problem now is not money but how to distribute it and plan for long-term reconstruction.
The relief effort for countries devastated by the undersea earthquake and killer waves is going well, Powell said as he visited Thailand. The trip also will take him to Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The three countries suffered the heaviest damage and loss of life.
Powell said the U.S. response to the tsunami disaster has grown as the world has learned the scale of the devastation, and he said he saw no immediate need for more federal money.
"I don't anticipate an increase in money. We haven't spent the money that we've committed so far," Powell said.
With international government donations and pledges totaling some $2 billion, Powell said a main focus was on spending the money wisely.
He said he wanted a firsthand look before recommending to the president what the United States should do next.
"We made it clear all last week we would do what is necessary and we will scale up as it is necessary to scale up," he said.
Jeb Bush is also leading the team of U.S. aid and disaster experts scouting the region with Powell.
The president's brother noted that his state of Florida had suffered four hurricanes. "We share this experience," he said, adding that the American people want to offer a helping hand.
Powell will represent the United States at an international conference in Jakarta. That conference will provide an opportunity to iron out any problems coordinating aid and recovery efforts among the many countries and organizations participating, he said.
"But right now I would say things are going exceptionally well when you consider we're only eight days into this," he said.