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Iranian Americans Warn Harsh U.S. Sanctions Could Restrict Aid to Iran’s Earthquake Victims

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Warnings of military action against Iran come amidst concerns harsh U.S. sanctions on Iran will greatly hinder international donations for victims of this weekend’s double earthquakes. More than 300 people were killed and thousands more wounded when the earthquakes struck northwest Iran on Saturday. A U.S. ban on financial transactions to Iran has left donors with the sole option of hoping family remittances are passed on to victims or aid groups inside Iran. We’re joined by Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita, I wanted to ask you about another story that links directly to this. Iranian-American advocacy groups, including your group, are raising concerns about the harsh U.S. sanctions on Iran greatly hindering international donations for victims of this weekend’s double earthquakes. More than 300 people were killed, thousands more injured, when the earthquakes struck northeast Iran Saturday. A U.S. ban on financial transactions to Iran, what has that meant for families, for your family and others? What are you asking for now?

TRITA PARSI: What we’re asking for is that President Obama does exactly the same thing as President Bush did in 2003 when there was a massive earthquake in Bam in Iran. President Bush, at that moment, I think within four or five days, issued a general license, meaning that the American people would have no constraints on their ability to show their humanity and generosity and make donations to the victims of the earthquake in the city of Bam. And we saw massive outpouring of support from the American public, including of course Iranian Americans, and teams of Americans going there to help rebuild, to help the victims, to find bodies, etc. And it was a very positive thing.

Right now, however, the Obama administration has not taken that action. There’s a whole new web and complexity of sanctions that probably makes such a decision more difficult, but at the same time, the only thing that the Obama administration has done so far is to promise that licenses, to be able to go and operate in Iran or to make donations to Iran, would be expedited. We don’t think that is enough.

At the end of the day, these sanctions, according to the Obama administration itself, were not meant to hurt the people of Iran; it was meant to put pressure on the Iranian government to change its nuclear calculus. But we’re seeing increasingly that the real victims of these sanctions, as was the case in Iraq, as is the case in Cuba, is not the government of Iran; the real victims are the ordinary people in Iran who unfortunately don’t have much of an opportunity to put pressure on their government to change the policies. They’re not responsible for the policies of the Iranian government, because Iran, at the end of the day, is not a democracy. So we’re seeing this pressure being misdirected, hitting the wrong people. And nowhere else is it as clear as when you have an earthquake and you see that the type of help that the American people usually like to give now is being prohibited, partly because the Iranians took a very long time before they accepted donations and help from the outside, but mainly because of the sanctions that do exist.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Trita Parsi, there’s just breaking news coming in from AP that the families of the assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists, who were assassinated earlier this year in January, are suing Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. Could you comment on that?

TRITA PARSI: Well, it seems to be part of—again, this is breaking news, so I’m just hearing this the first time. It seems to be part of an effort by the Iranian government to find every way to challenge the policies of the United States, particularly when it comes to sanctions and the pressure that they’re faced with. I have not seen any particular evidence that the United States would be involved in these assassinations. In fact, the Obama administration leaked to NBC earlier this year that it believes that it’s the Israeli government, in collaboration with an Iranian terrorist group called the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, that are behind these assassinations. The Iranian government has also made accusations against the British, saying that the British provided intelligence that enabled these assassinations to take place. I suspect that this lawsuit will probably not go anywhere, because at the end of the day, it’s going to be very difficult to present any evidence, if the Iranians have it. If they had it, I would be quite confident that they would have made that public by now, because they’ll get more mileage out of showing it to the international public opinion rather than taking it to court.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, both, for joining us. Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. His book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel, and the United States. New book, A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran. And Phyllis Bennis at the Institute for Policy Studies, she has written many books, including Understanding the U.S.-Iran Crisis: A Primer.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll look at national politics. We’ll look at the Ryan-Romney plan, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Stay with us.

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