Quake aid may open door for US and Iran
The US delivered about 120,000 pounds of aid to earthquake-stricken Iran Sunday.
For the first time in more than a decade, four American military aircraft landed in Iran Sunday in a gesture between two countries more noted for acrimony than mutual aid.Skip to next paragraph
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The US, joining dozens of other countries in providing emergency aid after Friday's earthquake, delivered about 120,000 pounds of medical supplies and water to the nation once branded by President Bush as part of the "axis of evil."
But it is often at humanity's most trying moments that old foes are brought together in a spirit of cooperation and compassion.
"The reception was very warm," said Lt. Col. Vic Harris in a phone interview after returning to his base in Kuwait. "We worked side by side with Iranian soldiers to download the supplies. The Iranian base commander said he hoped this would be the beginning of a new relationship."
Diplomats and analysts see Washington's offer of help - and Tehran's willingness to accept it - as a test of how far each is prepared to go in publicizing a new softening of the antagonism that has marked their relationship for a quarter-century. "The Americans are starting to send in aid and it's a very positive step," says one European diplomat reached in Tehran. "Whether the momentum of goodwill is sustained is a different question."
With the death toll in the earthquake in southern Iran now estimated at more than 20,000, and up to 100,000 made homeless, the need is great.
If recent history is any guide, aid extended at such a moment can open doors that seem welded shut. Here in Turkey, a country which suffered from an equally destructive earthquake just over four years ago, generations of enmity with neighboring Greece reached a historic turning point when Greek officials sent over rescue teams. Not long after that August 1999 earthquake, Athens also suffered a major quake, and Turks in turn sent in their best emergency teams.
"We worked in great harmony with the Greeks, and of course this turned the relationship in a much more positive direction," says Nasuh Mahruki, the president of AKUT, the Turkish Search and Rescue Association, a volunteer group which assisted in the Athens earthquake and has sent teams to Iran.
After several days of rescue efforts, Mr. Mahruki recalls, the Greek president invited the Turkish teams to his official residence to thank them. "It was a great honor to be there as part of a Turkish team," he says. "Then the two countries' foreign ministers started to talk, and then the nongovernmental organizations got in contact with each other, and relations got better."
Moreover, he says, average Greeks and Turks developed a better image of the "other" - as human beings eager to help. "Even at that time, we knew that this was the beginning of a new era between Turks and Greeks," says Mahruki.
Others says that the countries' leaders were simply ready to tame decades of tensions. "If the governments want to use it as an excuse, it's a wonderful excuse," says Mehmet Ali Birand," a prominent Turkish columnist and commentator who covered the 1999 earthquakes here and in Athens. "If there is a mood in the governments" to portray that aid as a watershed, he says, that's one option - but only one of many. "The man in the street really sympathizes with those coming to help. I felt it here and I felt it in Greece," Mr. Birand says.