Shifting its stance, Iran to welcome foreign quake aid
TEHRAN - The Associated Press
Twin quakes in Iran’s northwest have killed 306 and injured more than 3,000. REUTERS photoIn an apparent change of heart, Iran said yesterday it now welcomes foreign aid for victims of the deadly twin earthquakes that hit the country’s northwest last weekend.
The remarks indicate authorities were still struggling to cope with the quakes’ aftermath amid growing criticism that they failed to react timely and help the region along the borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia, where the 6.4 and 6.3 magnitude quakes on Aug. 13 killed 306 and injured more than 3,000 people. For two days after the quakes, Tehran insisted it needed no foreign assistance to handle the situation.
Iran has sent back Turkish relief team
Iran’s Red Crescent on Aug. 13 sent back a rescue team from Turkey that arrived without advance coordination. Help offered by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, UNICEF, Turkey, Taiwan, Singapore, Germany had been denied by the authorities. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday that the U.S. has not had “any pickup” from Iran on Washington’s offer of assistance, and noted Iranian public statements that it did not need outside aid. “Nonetheless, our offer stands on the table,” she told a news conference. Nuland said despite U.S. economic sanctions on Iran, Americans wishing to provide food and medicine to victims of the disaster could do so without obtaining a special license, and certain noncommercial financial transactions were also possible.
However, Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said yesterday Iran is now welcoming assistance from abroad for the quake victims. “Now and under the current circumstances, we are ready to receive help from various countries,” Rahimi said.
Meanwhile, rescue workers recovered more bodies three days after the earthquakes but officials played down reports that casualty numbers may still sharply rise.
A rescue team using sniffer dogs had pulled out the body of a young woman in the village of Sorkhgav, Fars news agency reported yesterday, and was close to finding others.
Another report, by Iran’s Labor news agency, said hundreds of villages had suffered severe damage, raising fears that the number of dead could mount sharply as rescuers reach previously inaccessible areas.
However, officials dismissed the idea that the number of fatalities could rise significantly, saying the eventual figure may in fact be lower than current estimates.
“Many figures are based on speculation and have not been documented,” Behram Samadi Rad, a provincial coroner, said. “We cannot give a precise figure for the number of dead but we believe it will be under 300.”