Despite strife over Tehran’s nuclear program, the US offered Wednesday to help Iran recover from a deadly quake that struck near an atomic plant the day before.
The White House statement came hours after Iran vowed to build new nuclear plants in the same region, boasting that the Bushehr plant could withstand quakes 17 times as strong as the 6.3 magnitude temblor that struck near the town of Kaki Tuesday, killing at least 37, injuring nearly 1,000 and flattening over 800 homes in the sparsely populated area.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and the destruction that’s been caused by this disaster, and stand ready to help the Iranian people in this time of need,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement was similar to one issued by the White House after the 2003 Bam earthquake, which killed over 26,000 people in central Iran in 2003. Iran accepted the US offer of aid, which led to a slight detente in relations between the countries, which had broken off diplomatic relations in 1979 after the Islamic revolution.
The US has in recent years been at the head of efforts to levy sanctions on Iran in response to Tehran’s rogue nuclear program, which is widely believed to be for military use. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
The Bushehr plant was unaffected by the earthquake. Atomic energy head Fereydoon Abbasi said the plant was designed to withstand an 8.0 magnitude tremor.
On Tuesday night, Abbasi told Iranian TV that Tehran was inviting foreign companies to build 16 new atomic power plants in the country, including in the quake-prone region.
“We have identified 16 sites, mostly in places with access to water which have appropriate distance from residential areas. Places in the coastal area of Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman were among these locations. Of course the Bushehr power plant has the capacity to hold up to 6 nuclear power plants,” he said, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.
On Monday, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated a new uranium mine and a yellowcake processing plant, displaying his country’s commitment to continue its nuclear program despite Western sanctions and diplomatic efforts.
The move came only two days after talks between Iran and six world powers over curbing enrichment activity broke down in Kazakhstan.
The US has said it is leaving all options on the table to keep Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, a reference to military action which could be taken.