While opposing many policies of the Iranian government, Trump administration officials have frequently claimed to care for the Iranian people.
But such sentiments are belied by the feeble US official response to a massive earthquake that has killed more than 500 Iranians in a remote area on the Iran-Iraq border.
It took the US State Department more than 24 hours after the quake to express “sincere condolences” for the loss of life and property in the quake. The White House has yet to say anything about the tragedy.
Contrast this with the response of the George W. Bush administration in 2003, when a devastating earthquake hit the ancient Iranian city of Bam. The chief White House spokesman expressed the personal condolences of the US president and the Pentagon dispatched an entire medical brigade and tons of emergency aid on C-130 transit planes – the first US military aircraft to land in Iran in more than 20 years.
While the Bam earthquake had a much larger death toll than the latest quake, it occurred in the context of an equally if not more strained US relationship with Iran that included Bush’s inclusion of the Islamic Republic on an “axis of evil” in a 2002 speech and the revelation that Iran was building facilities to enrich uranium. Then Secretary of State Colin Powell convinced the White House that offering relief could lead to a possible thaw in US-Iran ties and that whatever happened in terms of foreign policy, it was the right thing to do on humanitarian grounds. The then president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, thanked the US for its assistance.
In 2012, when hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was Iran’s president, a major earthquake struck in Iranian Azerbaijan. The Barack Obama administration relaxed Treasury Department regulations to expedite relief donations to Iran from Iranian Americans. In the aftermath of the most recent quake, Iranian expatriates have struggled to find ways to assist those affected.
Given the current climate between Iran and the United States and Trump’s decision to distance his administration from the Iran nuclear agreement, it is entirely possible that the Iranian government would reject a US government offer of aid. Israel, another country with which Iran is at odds, was rebuffed after it said it was willing to send special teams to help find victims under the rubble. But it would have been an important gesture for the Trump administration to make, even if Iran had rejected it.
The United States could also demonstrate concern for the well being of the Iranian people by reaffirming the sale of Boeing and Airbus airliners to Iran’s national airline.
Iranians have suffered for years from their government’s inability to replenish a fleet of aging civilian airliners. Iran Air flew many old Boeings provided before the 1979 Iranian revolution and Russian planes that have poor safety records. When these planes crashed – as they often did – Iranians have directed their anger toward the United States.
Under the 2015 nuclear agreement, US-made passenger airliners and airplanes with significant US content were specifically carved out as permitted for sale to Iran and exempt from US sanctions. But these sales are now uncertain because of the Trump administration’s shaky attitude toward the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and concerns about how US companies will receive compensation.
Boeing recently announced some high profile deals with the United Arab Emirates, an Iranian rival. It is possible that the US jet maker is hedging its bets in the event that the Iran deal falls through.
In 1993, the Clinton administration convinced Saudi Arabia to buy more Boeings so that the company would not pursue a deal with Iran.
Allowing the Boeing sales to go through to Iran will help the US economy by supporting more than 100,000 jobs. The benefits in terms of Iranian goodwill are incalculably higher.
Barbara Slavin is director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council..