Former Presidents to Raise Disaster Funds

By  | 

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Monday named former Presidents Clinton and Bush to lead a nationwide charitable fund-raising effort for victims of the Asian tsunamis.

"The greatest source of America’s generosity is not our government," Bush said at a news conference at the Roosevelt Room, with his two immediate predecessors at his side. "It’s the … heart of the American people."

The two men are to lead an effort to encourage the American people and American businesses to support, through private contributions, non-governmental and international organizations relief and reconstruction to areas devastated by the tsunamis, Bush said.

"In the coming days, Presidents Clinton and Bush will ask Americans to donate directly to reliable charities already providing help to tsunami victims," Bush said. "I've asked the former presidents to solicit contributions both large and small."

The president urged Americans to give money instead of other items and urged those interested in contributing to visit the USA Freedom corps Web site for further information on the best way to render aid.

Afterward, Bush, his father and Clinton were to pay brief visits to the embassies of the four nations — Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand — hit hardest by the disaster. Bush was to sign condolence books at each embassy.

Bush faced criticism for being 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.

But private donations began pouring in from people in the United States and around the world at unprecedented levels almost immediately.

Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan, dismissed suggestions the White House effort was behind that curve as well, saying the effort was about encouraging the impressive flow to continue.

"This will bring even more focus on the need to provide support for these international organizations in the affected areas," he said before Bush’s announcement. "This is a human tragedy that is really beyond comprehension and we want to make sure we're doing everything we can both from the government perspective as well as private support to help those who are suffering."

The president also is waiting to hear back from a delegation he dispatched to the region to assess what more the United States government can do to help. That team, led by Secretary of State Colin Powell and the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, arrived in the region Monday.

Powell said Monday in Bangkok, Thailand, that the relief effort appears to be going so well that he sees no immediate need for more U.S. money.