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Bush offering $320 million humanitarian aid as Afghans flee famine, war threat

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush, bracing for war against Afghanistan's Taliban regime, offered $320 million in humanitarian aid Thursday for the Afghan people and neighboring states ``in a time of crisis and in a time of need.''

Bush said America stands ready to help the ``poor souls'' suffering under the hard-line regime.

``American will stand strong and will oppose the sponsors of terror, and America will stand strong to help those people who are hurt by those regimes,'' he told employees in a visit to the State Department.

White House officials said Bush's package includes $295 million in new U.S. assistance for Afghans suffering through drought, famine and the threat of U.S.-led military action. The money also will aid refugees crossing from Afghanistan into surrounding countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Much of the money is designed to help Afghans survive what is expected to be a brutal winter. Bush said food and medicine can be bought with the money.

Over the weekend, Bush dipped into an emergency fund and authorized $25 million in relief for Afghan refugees. The new money brings the relief package to $320 million, which will be provided through the United Nations, the Red Cross and nongovernmental organizations.

Bush thanked U.S. diplomats for helping him build a global coalition against terrorism.

``We will stand strong on the side of good, and we expect other nations to join us,'' Bush said. ``This is our way of saying while we firmly and strongly oppose the Taliban regime, we are friends of the Afghan people.''

Still, Bush said the U.S. will not bow.

``We're a compassionate nation,'' he said, ``but our compassion is limited.''

In discussing Afghanistan Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to set limits on a prospective U.S. military campaign against the terrorists suspected in the New York and Washington attacks and their backers.

In Paris, French Defense Minister Alain Richard said Thursday that a military response is unlikely for several weeks. ``The decisions to take action haven't been made. Everyone is going to prepare their own means that will be well-adapted for a joint effort. We aren't at the end of that,'' he told reporters.

The first potential target, Powell says, is the al-Qaida network headquarters in Afghanistan. But beyond that he refuses to be pinned down ``on what might happen in the future.''

Powell suggested Wednesday that the U.S. campaign ``also takes note of those nations that provide haven, provide succor, provide support to terrorist organizations.''

As military planning continues, Bush was meeting Thursday with the president of Mexico and the emir of Qatar, while a senior State Department official calls on a deposed Afghan king on Rome. The president spoke by phone Thursday with the emir of Bahrain and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, as part of his diplomatic outreach, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mexican President Vicente Fox declared his ``complete solidarity'' with the United States.

But since then, Fox and his advisers have sent mixed messages about the extent of that support.

Bush clearly would like a reaffirmation of Fox's total support.

There appears to be no question that is what Bush has from Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, an oil-rich Persian Gulf emirate.

``There is no doubt that the unique relationship between Qatar and the United States dictates that we have to stand by the United States, especially in the efforts to combat terror,'' the emir said Wednesday after meeting with Powell.

Several Arab governments have sought assurances no Arab country would be attacked in the U.S. pursuit of terror.

Powell, the Qatari emir at his side, said Wednesday ``we are not looking for conflict with other nations.''

But, he said, while bin Laden has his headquarters in Afghanistan, ``He has elements of his network around the world.

``We are using all the tools available to us _ financial tools, law enforcement, intelligence and the prospect of military operations as well _ to go after this network,'' Powell said.

At the same time, Powell tried to quash persistent reports that Saudi Arabia was denying help to the United States in military preparations.

``I know the reports keep persisting,'' he said. ``But the request we have put to the Saudis have been responded to. ... We are very satisfied with the support that the Saudi Arabian government has provided to us.''

On the diplomatic front, Richard Haass, director of policy planning for the State Department, was meeting in Rome with Zahir Shah, who was deposed as king of Afghanistan 28 years ago and is now 86 years old.

It was the highest-level U.S. contact with the ex-monarch. ``We support the idea of a broad-based government in Afghanistan,'' State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. ``We are certainly interested in his ideas.''

Haass is on a weeklong trip to Europe for talks with policy-makers in France, Belgium, Rome and London.
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