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Responding to quakes, US seeks path to Iranian 'hearts and minds'

Americans can donate food and medicine to Iranian quake victims without violating sanctions, the US says, seeking to contrast its harsh treatment of the regime with its offer of aid to the people.

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An Iranian woman and a man grieve after their loved ones were killed during Saturday's earthquake at the village of Bajebaj near the city of Varzaqan in northwestern Iran. Following the earthquake, the U.S. offered assistance to the people of Iran.

AP Photo/ISNA, Arash Khamoushi

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The United States may be imposing what it says are “crippling” sanctions on Iran’s government over its nuclear program, but it has a different message for the Iranian people in the aftermath of deadly earthquakes over the weekend.

“Our hearts go out to those [Iranians] who are affected,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Monday. The Iranian government raised the death toll in Sunday’s quakes to 306, with many villages totally wiped out.

The US has long sought to differentiate its actions towards the Iranian government from those aimed at the Iranian people. The earthquakes in northwestern Iran provided the latest opportunity to reach Iranian “hearts and minds” within an over-all punitive approach to the regime in Tehran. The Bush administration issued a general license enabling relief organizations to provide assistance after the devastating earthquake in Bam in 2003, which killed more than 26,000 people.

This time, the US government offered assistance shortly after receiving news of the quakes in Tabriz and Anar, which struck 11 minutes apart with estimated magnitudes of 6.4 and 6.3. Ms. Nuland emphasized that the offer remains “on the table” even though the Iranian government has said it does not need outside assistance.

In addition, Nuland said Americans should know that they are free to make donations of food and medicines to the Iranian quake victims without fearing prosecution under US sanctions laws.

Word of the earthquakes’ devastation prompted immediate but varying responses from Iranian interest groups in the US.

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