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U.S. Delivers Supplies, Experts to Aid Iran

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2003 – Proving that disaster knows no politics, U.S. service members are delivering humanitarian aid to Iran in the wake of an earthquake that has left an estimated 25,000 Iranians dead.

A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck the area near the city of Bam. Unreinforced mud brick buildings crumbled, killing thousands as they slept. Iranian officials said today the death toll could reach 40,000 in Bam and the surrounding countryside.

Soon after word of the catastrophe spread, President Bush was informed on it. "We are greatly saddened by the loss of life, injuries, and widespread damage to this ancient city," Bush said in a written statement Dec. 26. "I extend my condolences to all those touched by this tragedy. The thoughts of all Americans are with the victims and their families at this time, and we stand ready to help the people of Iran."

A senior U.S. government group met Dec. 26 to see what humanitarian aid the United States could provide. At first, the group worked through the Swiss government. The Swiss are caretakers for the United States in Iran, and have an interest section in the Swiss embassy here. But U.S. officials soon decided to speak directly to the Iranian government. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called Iran's counselor in the Swiss embassy in Washington, Mohammad Zarif, with the U.S. offer of assistance. "It was favorably received," said a State Department spokesman.

"Due to the urgency of the situation, we decided direct contact was the most appropriate channel," said the State Department official. He said the direct contact does not alter the tone or content of other issues the United States has with Iran. The humanitarian concern is paramount to the United States. "Our only mission is to alleviate the human suffering caused by the earthquake," the official said.

The U.S. government decided to deploy civilian teams composed of more than 200 experts in urban search and rescue, emergency surgery and disaster response coordination. These included medical response teams from Boston, and local disaster response teams from Los Angeles and Fairfax County, Va. Disaster response experts also will be drawn from the , U.S. Agency for International Development the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State Department.

The U.S. military began deploying more than 150,000 pounds of medical supplies from bases in Kuwait to the people of Iran. It was the first U.S. aircraft to land in Iran since the end of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1981.

At least seven C- 130 Hercules flights went from Kuwait to Kerman, the Iranian provincial capital near the affected areas. In addition, a Galaxy airlifter from Dover Air Force Base, Del., and a C-17 Globemaster III from Charleston AFB, S.C., delivered personnel and equipment to Kerman. News reports said U.S. airmen and Iranian soldiers worked side by side to unload the giant airlifters.

The United States will continue to work with the Iranian government, international agencies and the Red Cross and Red Crescent as recovery efforts continue, officials said.

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