WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration yesterday eased restrictions on assistance to Iran in response to the country's devastating earthquake.
"Getting aid to those so greatly affected by this devastating earthquake is a top priority," Treasury Secretary John Snow said.
The goal, Snow said, was speeding up the process of helping Iranians.
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 usually off limits to Iran will be permitted to help manage relief efforts, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said.
A 90-day period, which began on Saturday, has been set to permit Americans to donate funds to private organizations to be used for relief and reconstruction efforts, the Treasury office said.
Iranians listed by the US government as suspected financiers of terrorism will remain barred from receiving funds. Since 1979, when the United States placed sanctions on Iran, it has been illegal to transfer funds there. Individual licenses for exceptions to the rule are normally required, and that can be a time-consuming process, a senior US official said yesterday.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell consulted members of Congress and concluded that the earthquake had created extraordinary humanitarian needs and that it was in the US national interest to provide help, a US official said on condition of anonymity.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage telephoned Iran's UN envoy, Javad Zariv, who was in Tehran at the time of the disaster, and pledged US assistance.
But while Zariv accepted the offer and Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, thanked the United States, Khatami also 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, noted a different view.
"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.
Meanwhile the administration has been speeding relief to Iran, where more than 28,000 people perished in the earthquake, centered in the city of Bam.