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Actually, a great deal is up in the air between the two nations, which have had no official relations since the hostage crisis. In 2002, President Bush, alarmed by Iran's nuclear ambitions, included the country in his "axis of evil" formulation. But Iran has supported postwar peace in Afghanistan and Iraq and recently agreed to accept surprise nuclear inspections. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Washington Post last week that the U.S. was now open to "the possibility of dialogue" with Tehran.
Bush's offer to send Dole and a family member seemed aimed at both doing good and getting the best publicity for his charitable buck. Its rejection was unsurprising. Iranian parliamentary elections are Feb. 20, and dominant hard-line clerics are worried that friendly American behavior might aid reformers, who are less anti-Western than the conservatives. The Administration is left with the same sort of New Year's solace as its medical team: you heal the Baseejist not because he likes you but because he is another human being. And who knows? Somewhere down the line he may remember the favor. --Reported by Thomas Erdbrink/Bam and Douglas Waller/Washington