WASHINGTON, Nov 9: President George W. Bush on Tuesday said that a US “presidential delegation” might soon visit Pakistan to express solidarity with earthquake victims and to assess the situation.

Diplomatic sources say that Mr Bush may visit Pakistan early next year when he goes to South Asia for key bilateral talks in New Delhi.

At a briefing at the White House, Mr Bush also announced the creation of the ‘South Asia Earthquake Relief Fund’, which would provide funds and supplies to survivors.

Last month the president had announced that five distinguished American business leaders would work to encourage contributions to help the affected people.

“Some of them will be going over to Pakistan, along with Ambassador (Karen) Hughes and others, to assess the situation as part of a presidential delegation,” he said. “When they come home from Pakistan, they’re going to travel our country to rally our citizens to help the victims of this disaster.”

Ambassador Hughes, under secretary of state for public diplomacy, is responsible for improving US image in the Muslim world. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca will also accompany the group, which Mr Bush described as a “presidential delegation.”

The Fund includes chief executives of five major companies and the US president will directly support them in their bid to raise funds.

“The international response to the earthquake has been generous,” said Mr Bush, “but the need is still greater.”

He urged other governments and international donors to do more. “Nothing can take away the grief of the victims … but we can show them that we care,” he emphasized.

Recalling that besides pledging more than $156 million in financial assistance, the US also has sent its troops, helicopters, engineers and experts to help in relief and reconstruction works, Mr Bush said: “As families across South Asia begin to rebuild their lives, we offer our sustained compassion, our prayers and our assistance. And we offer you our assurance that America will continue to be there to help.”

He said the human toll in this earthquake was ‘staggering.’

“This disaster has taken the lives of more than 70,000 Pakistanis. It has injured almost 70,000 more, and left nearly 3 million people without their homes,” he said.

The survivors, he said, needed food, water, medicines, blankets and tents. “People in the US are praying for them and are willing to help … we have provided food, blankets, medicines and tents … our military is playing a key role as well.”

The US, he said, “cares when people are suffering” anywhere in the world.

The five executives directing the South Asia Earthquake Relief Fund are: Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO, General Electric; Hank McKinnell Jr., PhD., chairman and CEO, Pfizer; Anne Mulcahy, chairman and CEO, Xerox; Jim Kelly, former chairman and CEO, UPS; and Sanford Weill, chairman, Citigroup.

The Fund, administered by the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy, an international non-profit forum of over 100 CEOs and chairpersons, can be accessed at www.southasiaearthquakerelief.org.

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