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Gary Younge
Iranian leaders welcome easing of US sanctions

As tales of miraculous survivals from the quake came to light, Iran's senior statesmen hinted in surprising language at more positive dealings with George Bush's administration.

However, President Bush indicated last night that Iran had some way to go before relations could be normalised, insisting that the Islamic republic must embrace democracy, abandon nuclear weapons and fight terrorism.

"They must turn over al-Qaida (members) that are in their custody," he said. "The Iranian government must listen to the people in their country who long for freedom."

But the noises from senior Iranian officials were more conciliatory. At a memorial service for the estimated 50,000 victims of the quake, the influential former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, cautiously agreed that Tehran's relations with the US were improving. "I'm not sure, but the signs indicate that," he said, after the service in Bam's damaged main mosque.

A prominent MP and brother of President Mohammad Khatami went further, suggesting Tehran could reciprocate America's show of goodwill.

"We're evaluating the American government's positive behaviour and I'm sure that goodwill will be answered with goodwill," Mohammad Reza Khatami, the deputy speaker of parliament, told the Reuters news agency.

Yesterday, three people were reportedly rescued alive from the Bam wreckage, nearly seven days after the earthquake demolished the city. Only one of the rescues could be confirmed.

There were signs of some order amid the chaos, with the opening of the first camp to shelter thousands of destitute survivors, and the return of power to several main roads.

The Bush administration announced an easing of sanctions on Iran on Wednesday to facilitate both a government-sponsored aid effort and private donations.

The export of transportation equipment, satellite telephones and radio and personal computer systems to Iran will be permitted to aid the relief effort, the state department said.

Blanket licences are also being issued to permit US firms and individuals to send funds to the country.

The US announcement came soon after the secretary of state, Colin Powell, spoke of a "new attitude" and "encouraging developments" in Tehran. Iran's decision, under pressure, to allow snap inspections of its nuclear programme was particularly welcome.

In Bam, relief workers yesterday found a young man, Yadollah Saadat, his pelvis broken, lying under a wardrobe among the corpses of six of his relatives. "They thought he was dead and then realised he was alive," his wife, Fatimeh Asghari, 22, said. "I can't express how happy I am.

A Red Crescent worker, Ali Ashghar Namdari, said: "At least we've saved one life. I have been in war and through many struggles and I've never been so happy."

Two other rescues, of an 80-year-old woman and a nine-year-old girl, were also reported on state media, though UN officials in Bam said these could not be verified.

A senior provincial official said that while nearly 30,000 deaths had already been confirmed, the final total would be fewer than 40,000.

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