On August 11, strong earthquakes in northwest Iran destroyed and damaged hundreds of villages, causing the loss of many lives, leaving thousands without electricity, water, health care and other essential services. The United States immediately sent the Iranian people our condolences and offered direct earthquake relief to the government of Iran. Despite our strong differences with the Iranian government, we have a deeply held obligation to help those in need in times of disaster.
In the days since those devastating quakes, Iranians who call this area home have been searching for missing loved ones, mourning those who were lost in this tragedy, and beginning to rebuild their lives. Iranian authorities have been assisting families affected, but there are still urgent unmet needs. In a disappointing decision, the government of Iran has chosen not to accept our offer of humanitarian assistance. If the Iranian government changes its decision, we are ready to provide: emergency health care kits, plastic sheeting, blankets, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, plastic water containers and water treatment units, as well as other support through partner NGOs.
In addition to what the U.S. government could do, we know that there are many Americans – of Iranian origin and otherwise – who want to help. Last Friday, the White House hosted a conference call for interested groups from the Iranian-American and other communities, to discuss our offer of assistance and how the American people can best assist Iranians in need. Officials from the National Security Staff, USAID, the State Department and the Treasury Department walked call participants through the ways American citizens can donate to the relief efforts without violating the sanctions that are currently in place.
While donations of many humanitarian items, like food and medicine, to Iran did not require a license from Treasury, some transactions required a special license. To make it easier for American citizens to help Iranians recovering from these earthquakes, today the Treasury Department issued a General License that immediately authorizes U.S. persons to contribute to earthquake relief efforts in Iran. The General License authorizes certain fund-raising and transfers of funds to Iran for earthquake relief for a period of 45 days. This step allows the American people to support organizations providing humanitarian relief activities, including the distribution of emergency medical and shelter supplies, as well as those pursuing broader efforts to rebuild affected areas.
The new license is intended only to support the Iranian people as they respond to and rebuild from this natural disaster. We remain committed to rigorously implementing the measures and sanctions in place to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime, and to continue increasing the costs of Iran’s non-compliance with its international obligations related to its nuclear program.
Denis McDonough is the Deputy National Security Advisor.