Castro denies accepting US aid
HAVANA - Cuban President Fidel Castro denied on Thursday that his Communist government had accepted U.S. aid for the first time in the wake of Hurricane Wilma.
The U.S. State Department said earlier its longtime foe Cuba, whose own offer of help was snubbed by Washington after Hurricane Katrina, had for the first time "in memory" accepted U.S. disaster aid.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said a three-person U.S. assessment team was on stand-by to go to Cuba to see what was needed after Wilma flooded Havana and western shore areas this week.
U.S. aid would be funneled through a nongovernmental organization if it were needed, he said, adding that Washington had sent a diplomatic note to Cuba on Tuesday offering help and received a positive response a day later.
Havana's reply to the U.S. offer, read out by Castro on a live television broadcast, said Cuba had not requested international aid. "That is not an acceptance of aid," the Cuban leader said.
Castro, annoyed that Washington was distorting Cuba's intentions, said Havana had only accepted a visit by the assessment team in an effort to build regional cooperation in dealing with the growing danger posed by hurricanes.
"We have no objections at all to the three officials visiting us, to know their assessment and exchange views on these matters," Castro said. "We won't close the door."
Two months ago the United States did not take up Havana's offer to send more than 1,000 doctors and tons of medical supplies to the United States after Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Cuba said the United States never formally responded to the offer for political reasons, but State Department officials said the help was not needed.
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