WASHINGTON — Mahdis Keshavarz has the means and the motivation to help her friends and family in Iran who have been affected by the recent earthquake, but she says U.S. sanctions against Iran stand in her way.

"You're seeing these photos of the victims suffering and your instinct is to help people," said Keshavarz, an Iranian-American who owns the Make Agency, a New York-based media firm that specializes in Middle East arts, culture and politics projects. "The thing getting in your way is a rule that is not humane."

The estimated death toll from Saturday's two temblors has risen above 300 with another 3,000 people injured, according to some reports. The quake comes as the United States is increasing economic sanctions against Iran to put pressure on the country's nuclear ambitions, frustrating U.S. residents who now want to offer humanitarian assistance.