WASHINGTON — Mahdis Keshavarz has the means and the motivation to help her friends and family in Iran who have been affected by the recent earthquake, but she says U.S. sanctions against Iran stand in her way.
“You’re seeing these photos of the victims suffering and your instinct is to help people,” said Keshavarz, an Iranian-American who owns the Make Agency, a New York-based media firm that specializes in Middle East arts, culture and politics projects.
“The thing getting in your way is a rule that is not humane.”
The estimated death toll from Saturday’s two temblors has risen above 300 with another 3,000 people injured, according to some reports. The quake comes as the United States is increasing economic sanctions against Iran to put pressure on the country’s nuclear ambitions, frustrating U.S. residents who want to offer humanitarian assistance.
Charitable donations to Iran in the form of cash aren’t allowed from the United States unless they’re specifically licensed by the federal government, said John Sullivan, a spokesman for the Treasury Department.
There are a few exceptions: Food and medicine are exempt from the sanctions; personal remittances sent to family and friends are allowed, but cannot be sent from a U.S. bank to an Iranian bank, he said.
Put into practice, though, sending money to family members poses a challenge, said David Elliott, the assistant policy director at the National Iranian American Council in Washington.
“Technically there are exemptions, but in many cases you’ll find there are no banks that will actually facilitate the transactions,” Elliott said.