Led by Kucinich, lawmakers push to approve earthquake aid for Iran

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is urging President Obama to clear the way for U.S. groups to help earthquake victims in Iran.

Behind Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the lawmakers want the administration to give a blanket waiver to sanctions that they fear could prevent American aid groups from helping those who were affected by the disasters.

“The current standstill in negotiations with the Iranian government should not prevent the United States from helping the Iranian people," the lawmakers wrote to Obama on Thursday. "Aiding them in their time of need would reaffirm U.S. support for the Iranian people and make clear that our sanctions do not represent an attempt to harm the Iranian people."

In addition to Kucinich, the letter was signed by GOP Rep. John Mica (Fla.) and Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison (Minn.), John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), Mike Honda (Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), John Olver (Mass.), Jim McDermott (Wash.), André Carson (Ind.) and Barbara Lee (Calif.).

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More than 300 people were killed and more than 3,000 others injured on Saturday when a pair of strong earthquakes struck northwest Iran. A third tremor struck the region on Tuesday, affecting an unknown number of villagers.

In the aftermath, the Treasury Department issued a statement on Tuesday providing guidelines for groups and individuals wishing to provide aid without violating the sanctions against the Iranian regime.

"Donations of food and medicine, when intended to be used to relieve human suffering, are exempt from the sanctions on trade between the U.S. and Iran, as long as the donations are not being sent to the Government of Iran or any Iranian individual or entity on the Treasury Department’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons," the agency wrote.  

But U.S.-based nonprofit groups wishing to provide aid directly must apply for a license through the Treasury Department. 

Treasury said it will lend "high priority" to those applications, but lawmakers want the agency to go a step further and issue a blanket waiver eliminating any doubts that aid groups are free to provide help, a move President George W. Bush made in response to a 2003 earthquake in Iran.

“In order to facilitate the timely and lawful delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people," the lawmakers wrote, "we urge the administration to immediately clarify what is permitted and prohibited under U.S. law, and to issue a general license to U.S. humanitarian organizations so they can provide critical assistance to Iranians in need."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.