- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2003

GENEVA (Agence France-Presse) — The international community swung into action yesterday to provide relief for Iran’s earthquake victims, with rescue teams, medical supplies and tracker dogs ready to move.

The International Red Cross in Geneva said it was making an appeal for $8 million.

The United Nations said it had sent a team to the scene of the disaster to coordinate rescue operations and was making $90,000 available immediately for the disaster, which claimed at least 5,000 lives, according to Iranian officials.

The United States also offered aid.

“This is a terrible tragedy,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured and with the families of those who were killed. And we are offering humanitarian assistance.”

Mr. McClellan said exact details of the U.S. contribution — to a state branded by President Bush as part of an “axis of evil” — would be announced later. The United States has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979.

Two specialists of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs left Geneva for southeastern Iran yesterday, to be followed by eight more today, a U.N. spokeswoman said in Geneva.

“The U.N. has made available emergency aid of $90,000 and sent an expert team to evaluate the damage and mobilize and coordinate international aid,” she said.

France was set today to dispatch 65 emergency-services specialists and 20 tons of equipment for a field hospital, the Foreign Ministry said.

President Jacques Chirac said in a message to Iranian President Mohammed Khatami he had heard with deep emotion of the disaster.

Expressing condolences to victims’ families and solidarity with the Iranian people, Mr. Chirac said France was ready “to dispatch all means of assistance that could be required to cope with the consequences of this terrible tragedy.”

A German aircraft was set to leave Frankfurt yesterday with a rescue team and materiel.

The Foreign Ministry said it had formed a crisis group and made more than $600,000 available in immediate aid.

It said the plane was headed for Kerman, 120 miles from the center of the disaster, with a team including dogs specializing in detecting and rescuing trapped survivors.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said his country would “make every effort within the limit of its possibilities to place at Iran’s disposal all necessary humanitarian aid.”

Iran had told U.N. officials it urgently needed medical supplies, tents, field hospitals, blankets and water-treatment equipment, but did not immediately require food aid, the U.N. spokeswoman said in Geneva.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s spokesman said in New York the $90,000 grant would come from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“The secretary-general was distressed to learn of the devastating casualties and damage caused by the earthquake in southeastern Iran,” said Fred Eckhard, Mr Annan’s spokesman.

The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF also began an immediate $350,000 appeal for urgent humanitarian needs.

In Moscow, Russian Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu said two cargo jets were being loaded with supplies and would take off as soon as Iran made its immediate needs known.

Russia was ready to send doctors, rescue workers, lifting equipment, medicine and sniffer dogs, he said.

Turkey, no stranger to devastating earthquakes, including one that killed more than 20,000 people in 1999, said it would put all means available at Iran’s disposal.

Iran also asked Switzerland for dogs specially trained in rescue work and detection equipment to find survivors, a spokesman of the Swiss government relief-aid department said.

He said his country was sending 10 rescue experts with four dogs to Kerman province.

The Red Cross appeal for $8 million will cover emergency supplies, such as tents, blankets, and possibly field hospitals, said a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva.

“We will be putting out a preliminary appeal in the next few hours. The Iranian Red Crescent asked us for help,” the spokesman said.

The European Union Commission in Brussels said it would provide nearly $1 billion in humanitarian aid from the funds of ECHO, its humanitarian office.

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