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US joins Iran relief fleet

Geneva, Dec. 26 (Reuters): The UN and several countries, including the US and Russia, offered help today to victims of a devastating earthquake in southeastern Iran.

UN officials said they were releasing an immediate emergency grant of $90,000 to help Iran in handling the aftermath of the quake and had sent a team of experts to help assess the damage. The world body’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the team, due to arrive at the ancient Silk Road city of Bam later in the day, would also work to mobilise and oversee international assistance.

The US offered unspecified assistance to the survivors, President George W. Bush’s spokesperson said. “We are offering humanitarian assistance,” spokesperson Scott McClellan said on Air Force One, bringing Bush to his Texas ranch for a New Year’s holiday.

“This is a terrible tragedy,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured and the families of those who were killed.”

The US broke diplomatic relations with Iran after militant students stormed the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

Russia’s emergencies ministry, highly skilled in reacting to frequent natural and man-made disasters, has offered rapid-response units of doctors, paramedics and sniffer dog-handlers to help find people buried under rubble.

“In accordance with an order from the head of state emergencies ministry, specialists are preparing to fly to Iran to give help to the injured,” said a statement from President Vladimir Putin’s press service after a meeting with emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu.

Russia has close ties with Iran, and is building a nuclear power station near the southern city of Bushehr on the Gulf.

In Berlin, German foreign minister Joschka Fischer offered Tehran help in rescuing earthquake survivors who may be trapped in collapsed buildings and to repair damage.

Italy was sending a C-130 military transport plane with a sniffer dog unit and unspecified vehicles, the Ansa news agency reported.

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