US Pressing To Deliver Aid To 'Paranoid' Myanmar

US Pressing To Deliver Aid To 'Paranoid' Myanmar
May 8th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: US Pressing To Deliver Aid To 'Paranoid' Myanmar

US Pressing To Deliver Aid To 'Paranoid' Myanmar
May 7, 2008 By Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon readied people and equipment for an aid mission to cyclone-stricken Myanmar, but the top U.S. diplomat in the Asian nation said its military junta was "paranoid" about accepting American help.
The U.S. military was putting people and airplanes into position Wednesday in nearby Thailand. But Myanmar's government had not accepted the U.S. offer to send aid, U.S. defense and diplomatic officials said. The top American diplomat in Yangon, Charge d'Affaires Shari Villarosa, said the country's military junta is paranoid about the United States but is not blocking American aid in retaliation for past criticism.
"It's a very paranoid regime," she told reporters in a conference call. She said lower reaches of the Myanmar regime appear to recognize the magnitude of the problem, but the senior leadership is isolated and has not yet announced a decision on how to handle outside aid, large amounts of which are moving into the area.
President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, called the cyclone a "humanitarian disaster of enormous proportions."
Notably, the White House's language about the junta appears to have grown less confrontational as the scope of the calamity grows.
On Monday, first lady Laura Bush described the junta as "very inept" on several fronts and accused leaders of failing to give citizens some lifesaving warnings about the storm. President Bush said Tuesday that his message to military rulers was: "Let the United States come help you."
Hadley put it this way on Wednesday: "The junta should please open its doors."
He said he would keep his comments limited because he did not want to politicize the matter.
"The green light has not been given for people to go in," Hadley said. "And it is simply going to compound the humanitarian disaster."
The White House said Tuesday the U.S. will send more than $3 million to help victims of the cyclone in Myanmar, up from an initial emergency contribution of $250,000.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined the growing call for Myanmar's leaders to accept the contributions, regardless of the policies of the donors.
"It should be a simple matter," Rice told reporters at the State Department. "This is not a matter of politics, this is a matter of a humanitarian crisis and it should be a matter that the government of Burma wants to see its people receive the help that is available to them."
Her spokesman, Sean McCormack, said the department was asking Myanmar's neighbors and traditional friends, including China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Thailand to help make the case for accepting aid.
An Air Force C-130 landed in neighboring Thailand and another was on the way, Air Force spokeswoman Megan Orton said Wednesday at the Pentagon.
"When they accept, or if they accept-- and we know what supplies they need -- those planes will be there to transport those," she said.
A rapid deployment unit designed to be the first people inserted into an operation already works out of Thailand and is at the ready as well. "This is just a positioning of the planes and people," Orton said.
There also are Navy ships in the region that have been alerted they could be called to help. But officials were not optimistic.
Three U.S. officials said it was possible the Myanmar government would only accept money from the United States and would want to buy its own aid supplies or that it would accept U.S. assistance only as part of the broader United Nations effort.
Villarosa said there were shortages of food and water and that the death toll could hit or exceed 100,000 as humanitarian conditions worsen.
She said she met with three ministers this week and is pressing hard to allow U.S. aid into the country. The junta is blocking aid from other nations, and does not appear to be singling out the United States because of the White House focus on human rights and other abuses in Myanmar, she said.
Asked if the U.S. would air drop aid without the Myanmar junta's permission, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said: "If you're not asked and it's not requested, it's considered an invasion."
Navy and Marine Corps officials said they were in a holding position, awaiting word on whether they would be needed.
The Navy has three ships participating in an exercise in the Gulf of Thailand that could help in any relief effort _ the USS Essex, the USS Juneau and the USS Harper's Ferry. The Essex is an amphibious assault ship with 23 helicopters aboard, including 19 capable of lifting cargo from ship to shore, as well as more than 1,500 Marines.
One official said that if there is a U.S. relief operation, the Essex group would likely leave some of its assets behind so the multinational exercise can still be held, while moving other equipment forward to help Myanmar.
Because it would take the Essex more than four days to get into position, another official said, the Navy is considering sending some of its helicopters ahead. The aircraft would be able to arrive in a matter of hours, and the Essex could follow, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because that effort was still in the planning stages.
The Treasury Department, meanwhile, took action Wednesday to help facilitate the flow of funds for humanitarian assistance to Myanmar. Without this step, sending money to the country is generally prohibited under a U.S. sanctions program.
"This license will clear the way for additional humanitarian aid to make it to the Burmese people swiftly and efficiently," said Adam Szubin, director of the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Associated Press writers Anne Gearan, Matthew Lee, Ben Feller, Jeannine Aversa and Foster Klug contributed to this report.

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