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Iran declines U.S. offer for official aid mission

Sen. Elizabeth Dole is the former president of the American Red Cross.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole is the former president of the American Red Cross.

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Elizabeth Dole
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George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States does not plan to send a government-sponsored aid mission to Bam after Iranian leadership asked that the visit be held "in abeyance," a State Department spokesman said Friday.

The United States approached the Iranian leadership with the idea but was turned down, spokesman Adam Ereli said.

"Therefore, we are not pursuing it further at the moment," Ereli said. It would have been the first public visit from a U.S. official in more than 20 years.

U.S. officials had said that President Bush had wanted to send a humanitarian delegation, headed by Republican North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a former president of the American Red Cross. The mission would have included an as-yet unnamed member of the Bush family, the officials said.

A catastrophic earthquake a week ago in Bam has killed at least 30,000 people, flattened the city and left hundreds of thousands homeless and ill. Aid has poured in from all over the world and private U.S. organizations have rallied efforts.

Bush met with senior officials last Sunday to discuss what more the United States can do to help Iran.

An official said separately that Dole has told Secretary of State Colin Powell she wants to go to Iran, and officials decided it would be a good idea.

Last week, the White House announced that it was offering humanitarian assistance to Iran in the wake of the December 26 earthquake -- a 6.6 magnitude -- near the southeastern city of Bam, which killed at least 30,000 people.

"I eased restrictions in order to be able to get humanitarian aid into the country," Bush said. "It's right to take care of people when they hurt."

Bush said Thursday that the assistance did not signify an easing of relations with Tehran. He demanded that the Islamic nation's leaders hand over captured al Qaeda operatives and "abandon their nuclear weapons program." (Full story)

The comments by Bush about Iran's nuclear program were some of the toughest from the president since Tehran signed an additional nuclear protocol last month to allow U.N. inspectors greater access to Iranian sites.

In order to expedite disaster relief, Bush on Wednesday ordered the temporary easing of some restrictions on sending money and goods to Iran. (Full story)

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