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U.S. EASES IRAN AID RESTRICTIONS

CNN
December 31, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration Wednesday eased restrictions on assistance to Iran in response to the country's devastating earthquake.

Blanket licenses are being issued to permit American firms and individuals to transfer funds to Iran, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control announced.

Also, export of transportation equipment, satellite telephones and radio and personal computing systems will be permitted to help manage relief efforts, a U.S. official said.

"Getting aid to those so greatly affected by this devastating earthquake is a top priority," said Treasury Secretary John Snow.

The goal, Snow said, was speeding up the process of helping Iranians.

A 90-day period, which began last Saturday, has been set up to permit Americans to donate funds to private organizations for relief and reconstruction efforts, the Treasury office said.

Iranians listed by the U.S. government as suspected financiers of terrorism will remain barred from receiving funds.

Currently it is illegal to transfer funds to Iran because of sanctions on Tehran dating to 1979.

The result is individual licenses for exceptions to the rule are required, and that can be a time-consuming process, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Colin Powell consulted members of Congress and concluded the earthquake had created extraordinary humanitarian needs and that it was in the U.S. national interest to provide help, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage placed a phone call to Iran's U.N. envoy, Javad Zariv, who was in Tehran at the time of the tragedy, and pledged U.S. assistance in light of the disaster.

But while Zariv accepted the offer and Iran President Mohammad Khatami thanked the United States, Khatami said there could be no change in a nearly 25-year estrangement with the United States unless Washington changed its tone and behavior.

Within the Bush administration there continues to be disagreement on how to deal with Iran and on whether democratic change is in the wind in Tehran.

Powell told The Washington Post earlier in the week that there were encouraging developments in Iran and that Tehran was demonstrating a "new attitude" on some issues.

But a White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, accompanying President Bush in Crawford, Texas, cast a different spin.

"We've made clear to the Iranian government on many occasions our grave concerns regarding its support for terrorism, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and other of its activities," Duffy said.

In the meantime, the administration has been speeding relief to Iran where more than 28,000 people perished in last Friday's magnitude 6.6 earthquake.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the U.S. Agency for International Development had assembled an 84-member team of experts, including 60 physicians from the Boston area and other medical workers.

They arrived in the devastated city of Bam on Tuesday and began setting up a mobile hospital.

 

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