Criticism of US sanctions returns in Iran after earthquake

KERMANSHAH, Iran — Criticism of US sanctions on Iran rekindled Thursday over Iranian-Americans abroad being unable to send money directly to aid those affected by a powerful earthquake that killed over 530 people as doctors worked to help the injured.

While the 2015 nuclear deal lifted some sanctions, others dating back as far as the days after the 1979 US Embassy takeover in Tehran still stand, including those that prohibit the some 1 million Iranian-Americans from directly sending cash to Iran.

The state-run IRNA news agency, as well as other media, published articles criticizing the rules.

“Despite all the difficulties, the Iranians living in the US are doing their best to devise innovative solutions to send their humanitarian supplies to the quake-hit areas in western Iran,” IRNA said in its report.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said earlier this week that his country does not need foreign help for the quake and it is capable of managing the aftermath on its own.

However, the Washington-based National Iranian American Council has offered suggestions about how to donate.

It also urged the US Treasury “to closely examine whether additional steps are needed to ensure that Americans can effectively contribute to relief efforts, and to issue any additional licenses necessary to ensure that US sanctions do not stand in the way of urgent relief.”

The US Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. However, it has lifted some sanctions in the past to help with Iranian earthquake relief, most notably in 2003 when a magnitude 6.6 earthquake killed 26,000 people in Bam.

Sunday night’s earthquake hit about 19 miles (31 kilometers) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the US Geological Survey, and struck 14.4 miles (23.2 kilometers) below the surface, a somewhat shallow depth that can amplify the damage.

The official IRNA news agency has said that 530 were killed while state TV put the number at 432. At least 100 people are believed to have been buried by families in rural villages without going to authorities for death certificates, which may explain the discrepancy.

In Iraq, nine people were killed and 550 were injured, all in the country’s northern Kurdish region, according to the United Nations.

Doctors and nurses continued to offer aid Thursday to those affected. In Sarpol-e-Zahab, which suffered half of the temblor’s casualties, field hospitals treated the injured, with tents set up outside for the homeless. There’s still a need for tents, blankets and other material, some of which victims alleged were taken by people unaffected by the disaster.

More than 400 aftershocks have struck the region, making many afraid to even go inside their homes to salvage whatever belongings they can.

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