WASHINGTON - In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, governments around the world, including some of America's adversaries, have opened their checkbooks to help storm victims.
In recent days, Cuban leader Fidel Castro has proposed sending doctors and medical personnel; the Islamic Republic of Iran has offered 20 million barrels of crude oil, and Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, has offered the governor of Louisiana 50 tons of food, 20 tons of bottled water, and the help of 120 first aid workers. The Iranian oil would come with strings attached - the regime asked America to lift trade sanctions in return.
The State Department has said it will not accept the aid from Cuba and Iran, neither of which have formal diplomatic ties with America.
Yesterday an informal fact sheet from the State Department of accepted aid listed a $1 million contribution to the Red Cross and state governments from Venezuela. A civil rights leader, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, however, told London's Guardian newspaper that the Bush administration had rejected aid from Mr. Chavez, who has publicly insulted the president and his senior advisers in the past.
This week the Voice of America quoted America's ambassador to Caracas, William Brownfield, as saying the Venezuelans' initial offer of aid was welcome. But Mr. Brownfield also said he would like to see Mr. Chavez end his public taunts of President Bush for his poor handling of emergency relief.
The Iranians' offer of 20 million barrels was rejected because the offer was conditioned on America lifting sanctions against the country. Iranian state radio quoted the Islamic Republic's representative to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Hossein Kazempour, as saying, "If U.S. sanctions are lifted, Iran is prepared to send that quantity of oil to America." The Associated Press yesterday quoted the State Department's executive secretary, Harry K. Thomas Jr., saying the offer was rejected because it was conditional.
In 2003, the State Department lifted some sanctions against American concerns doing business in Iran to allow for non-government organizations to assist in relief efforts for the Bam earthquake. At the time, Iran accepted tents and water purification kits from America.
Not all members of the axis of evil were as generous in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster. North Korean state-run television stations have reportedly aired video clips of stranded refugees in New Orleans. The state's official radio station this week ran commentary that said, "The U.S. government is suffering defeat after defeat, in the war in Iraq, in the fight with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina ... Consequently, it is facing a serious crisis conducting two wars at a time."
In a statement on Venezuela's and Cuba's offers of assistance, a scholar at a conservative Washington-based think tank, the Heritage Foundation, Stephen Johnson, warned that offers of aid from rogue regimes in the past have served as cover for drumming up support for leftist causes. Mr. Johnson warned not to "let in political opportunists eager to sow discord or probe the coastline for weaknesses in defense."