Iran offers to help cities devastated by Hurricane Sandy

By The New York Times

TEHRAN — Iranian rescuers and aid workers are on standby to fly to New York City to provide assistance to those affected by Hurricane Sandy, the head of Iran’s Red Crescent Organization said on Wednesday.

“We are ready to help the flood-stricken people of America,” Mahmud Mozaffar, who leads the organization, told the semiofficial Fars News Agency.

His men stand ready to board planes and fly to the United States to help out, assuming the American government accepts Iran’s offer, he said.

“If American authorities agree, we can send our rescuers with equipment and tools to American cities in the shortest period of time,” Mr. Mozaffar said.

The United States government did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Iranian offer. Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman who was traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a visit to the Balkans, referred the inquiry to her colleagues in Washington.

Dealing regularly with floods and earthquakes, Iran’s Red Crescent Organization is experienced in providing immediate assistance following disasters.

But the organization, the Islamic version of the Red Cross, is closely affiliated with Iran’s government. According to documents disclosed by WikiLeaks, American officials suspect some Red Crescent employees operate as spies when providing help in other countries.

Since the two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 hostage taking of the United States Embassy in Tehran, natural disasters have sometimes been a way of engaging in direct communication, beyond politics.

In 2003, the United States sent a C-130 military transport plane with a rescue team and an ambulance to the southeast Iranian city of Bam where 25,000 people died in a devastating earthquake, and in August the United States offered to do the same when more than 300 people were killed in two deadly earthquakes in the northwestern part of the country.

While Iranian authorities turned down the most recent offer, the United States Treasury Department temporarily lifted sanction restrictions to allow charities to send goods and money to the stricken area.

In June 2010, Iran’s Foreign Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards Corps said they were ready to help out the United States in controlling the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.


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