A natural response

The magnitude of some natural disasters can only leave us poor humans stunned and gasping. How do we comprehend the demise of more than 30,000 people when the ground quaked in Iran the day after Christmas? We can't.

But we can respond to the survivors, just as the United States and more than 30 other countries did.

Old foes can forget the animosity that exists between governments and act because there is nothing else to be done. After all, we are humans first, citizens of a country second.

Relations between the United States and Iran have been broken since 1979, when militant students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. They took 52 hostages in a standoff that lasted 444 excruciating and frustrating days for Americans. The Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's spiritual leader, became Americans' most hated enemy, only recently replaced by Osama bin Laden.

Relations between the two countries worsened in 2002 when President Bush in his State of the Union address named Iran a member of the "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea. He accused the three nations of attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The response is not complicated by politics when disasters occur within our own borders.

Search teams fanned out recently for four snowboarders lost near Lake Tahoe in California and found them. California was devastated by Christmastime mudslides that claimed lives near San Bernardino. The scale of the Iranian loss of life didn't render these events meaningless. One or 30,000 lives lost, the world is poorer.

As the death toll from the earthquake in Iran seemed to double daily, the world's response did as well. The United States suspended some sanctions against Iran for 90 days and sent humanitarian aid, including establishing a field hospital in Bam, the city hit hardest by the quake.

Sunday, the government of Iran declined to allow a high-profile American delegation to fly in with more earthquake relief. The explanation that time "is not ripe" sounds like a political decision meant to keep hardliners in Iran happy. To be led by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, the visit might have been an important step toward thawing relations between the two countries.

A spokesman for the Iranian government said his country is not ready to begin a dialogue with the U.S.

The time may not be right yet for the Iranians, but for our part we have done the right thing. When countries act from humanitarian impulses, new possibilities emerge.