Thu, 10 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

Tsunami response boosts image: Bush

Reuters, Washington

The U.S. response to last year's devastating tsunami in Asia had changed opinions of America in parts of the Muslim world, President George W. Bush said on Tuesday.

"I think that the world is beginning to see a different impression of America," Bush said during a White House meeting with his father -- former President George Bush -- and former president Bill Clinton, who are leading the push for private donations for tsunami relief.

The Bush administration has been struggling to turn a tide of anti-U.S. hostility, particularly among Muslims, that was spurred by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and a perceived anti-Palestinian bias in Washington's Middle East policy.

It has viewed the U.S. response to the tsunami as an opportunity to showcase a charitable side.

The disaster left about 300,000 people dead or missing in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Maldives, Bangladesh and east Africa. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes.

Bush has pledged US$950 million for humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Asian nations devastated by December's tsunami, a $600 million increase from money already allocated for the region.

The former presidents, back from a trip to the region, reported to Bush that almost $1 billion of private-sector money had gone to help the victims and cited a recent poll in Indonesia that showed "a dramatic change" in attitude toward the United States. "I'm heartened that the good folks of Indonesia, for example, see a different America now," Bush said.

"They see a country which of course will defend our security, but a country which also cares deeply about suffering people, regardless of their religion, that when we find a Muslim child suffering we weep just as equally as when we find another child that suffers."

Clinton said a lot of work remained to be done and that the United States should "see it through to the end."

"When you relate to people on a human basis, you send a message that our common humanity matters more than our differences," he said. "And when people believe that, America wins."