The earthquake that killed more than 300 in northern Iran earlier this month was a tragedy that was only compounded by the Iranian government’s refusal to accept aid from the U.S. government. In response, the Obama administration decided today to grant a general waiver allowing any U.S.-based NGOs to donate up to $300,000 in cash to the earthquake victims — a move that may be well-intentioned, but could actually end up benefiting the Iranian government instead of the people.

Too often, oppressive regimes like the one in Iran end up appropriating financial aid that’s meant for the public. When the U.S. government provides official support, it can be tracked by aid workers to help ensure it’s going to the actual victims. But the Iranian government has rejected U.S. aid offers, insisting that we lift sanctions instead.

In other words, Iran has been holding the earthquake victims hostage — apparently to some success. The Obama administration’s waiver allows any U.S.-based non-profit group to collect and transfer money to Iran for the next 45 days — up to $300,000 per group. The Treasury Department says the funds must be delivered to “an entity in Iran engaged in humanitarian relief and reconstruction activities.” And where will it go from there? We can only guess.

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