WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is easing restrictions on exports and private assistance to Iran in response to the country's devastating earthquake.
Blanket licenses are being issued to permit American firms and individuals to transfer funds to Iran to be used in relief and reconstruction programs, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control announced.
For a 90-day period that began last Saturday, Americans are being allowed to contribute to private organizations -- but not to suspected financiers of terrorism -- under the program.
Under the shift, additional licenses will be issued to enable organizations to export to Iran items needed for the management of the relief effort.
These include such usually controlled items as transportation equipment, satellite telephones and radio and personal computing systems.
Donations of humanitarian relief items such as food, certain medicines, clothing and tents do not require a license.
Powell consulted members of Congress and concluded that the earthquake, which struck southeastern Iran early today local time, had created extraordinary humanitarian needs and that it was in the U.S. national interest to provide help, deputy White House press secretary Trent Duffy said in a statement.
"The Iranian people deserve and need the assistance of the international community to help them recover from the catastrophic results of last week's earthquake," Duffy said. "The American people want to help, and share great concern and sympathy for those families and individuals who lost loved ones, their homes and possessions."
Treasury Secretary John Snow said "getting aid to those so greatly affected by this devastating earthquake is a top priority."
The goal, Snow said, was to speed the process of helping Iranians.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage telephoned Iran's U.N. envoy, Javad Zariv, who was in Tehran, on Saturday and promised U.S. assistance to deal with the disaster.
But while Zariv accepted the offer and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami thanked the United States, Khatami said this week that there could be no thaw in a 25-year diplomatic freeze 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 at the time, Duffy, who was with vacationing President Bush in Crawford, Texas, cast a different light on the issue.
"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.
In the meantime, the administration has been speeding relief to Iran where officials say more than 28,000 people perished in the earthquake.
Ereli said Tuesday that the AID had assembled an 84-member team of experts, including 60 physicians from the Boston area and other medical workers.