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US Offers Earthquake Aid to Iran

The Bush administration, putting aside political differences with Tehran, has made an offer of relief aid following the earthquakes in western Iran. A series of tremors late Thursday and early Friday in Iran's Luristan province caused heavy casualties and damage.

President Bush made the offer of assistance in a statement from his summit meeting in Mexico with Mexican and Canadian leaders, and the State Department followed that up with a call to Iran's ambassador to the United Nations.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the department's third-ranking official, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, telephoned Iranian U.N. envoy Javad Zarif in New York with an expression of U.S. condolences and a specific aid offer. "That assistance includes an offer of blankets, plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, and water units and temporary shelter for up to a hundred thousand people, as well as an intermediate grant of fifty thousand dollars that would be provided through NGO's that are supporting the relief effort. These supplies are available and can be sent to Iran within the next 48 hours by aircraft," he said.

Spokesman Ereli said the Iranian envoy thanked Undersecretary Burns for the expression of concern and the aid offer, and said he would contact his government and convey a response.

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since 1979 and direct contacts at that level have been infrequent, but not unprecedented.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage conveyed aid offers following the disastrous earthquake in the Iranian city of Bam in December of 2003 and after another serious quake in February of last year.

In the case of the Bam earthquake, Iran accepted the aid offer and allowed a direct airlift of relief supplies to the stricken area by U.S. military aircraft.

Friday's offer by President Bush comes at a time of political tensions between the United States and Iran, mainly over the Iranian nuclear program, which U.S. officials insist has a secret weapons component despite Tehran's denials.

In his comments in Cancun, Mexico, Mr. Bush said the United States obviously has its differences with the Iranian government but cares about the suffering of the Iranian people.

He also said a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands would pose a serious threat to world security.

Spokesman Ereli said Undersecretary Burns' conversation with Ambassador Zarif was limited to the earthquake issue.

Iran has accepted in principle a U.S. offer to hold talks on developments in Iraq with the U.S. envoy in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, but no date has been set.

Ambassador Khalilzad held similar talks with Iranian diplomats on Afghanistan during his tenure as U.S. envoy in Kabul.