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'Stingy' Barb Gets Big Results

A U.N. official's claim that wealthy Western nations were "stingy" in giving aid to poor countries appears to have touched off a tsunami of its own.

Western nations now look to be vying with one another for the Most Generous Tsunami Donor crown.

For example, the resentment between the United States and France that has festered since the American invasion of Iraq has bubbled over into the international aid arena - this time with a beneficial effect.

One-upping the U.S., France nearly doubled its aid pledge for tsunami victims to $57 million and briefly claimed the role as leading donor nation, following barbs from Washington about French generosity.

But Britain quickly topped France by more than tripling its donation to $95 million and Sweden promised $75.5 million. Spain's Cabinet approved a $68 million package, although about a fifth was in loans rather than outright grants.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, meanwhile, said he was "satisfied" with the response of world governments to the quake-tsunami disaster after a U.N. relief official earlier called Western nations "stingy."

Annan told reporters that so far, governments have pledged $500 million in aid to disaster victims.

"Let me say that in this particular instance the response has been very good," Annan said in response to a question about the earlier criticisms by U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland.

Since Sunday's huge earthquake off Indonesia and ensuing giant waves around the Indian Ocean, the United States has announced an initial $35 million aid package. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that was "just a beginning."

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's boast that France vaulted to "the head of all the contributors" appeared to be a response to comments from Andrew Natsios, chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which distributes American government 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 are 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."

At France's Foreign Ministry, spokesman Herve Ladsous shot back that French aid for the tsunami victims "is clearly donations and not loans."

Ladsous also said France gives more development aid than the United States and all other members of the Group of Eight industrial nations when measured as a proportion of a country's economic output.

"The figures speak for themselves," he said.

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.

The United States, which has a far bigger economy, led in dollar terms, donating $16.2 billion to France's $7.2 billion, which ranked third among the G-8 nations, OECD figures show. Japan was second.