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President Bush was tricked earlier this year into taking a telephone call from a man who pretended to be Iran's President Hashemi Rafsanjani and who said he wanted to speak about U.S. hostages in Lebanon, the White House said Thursday.

White House officials provided few details on the call but confirmed the incident after it was first reported Thursday evening on CBS News.Although the call turned out to be a fake, the fact that Bush agreed to take it is the clearest indication to date of his willingness to become personally involved in discussions over the fate of the hostages.

Many government experts on counterterrorism argue that the personal involvement of former Presidents Reagan and Carter with the hostage issue was a serious mistake, and administration officials have said they were trying to keep Bush at some distance from the hostage question.

In this case, however, Bush proved willing.

Bush, White House deputy press secretary Steven Hart noted, repeatedly has said that he was willing to ``talk to anybody at anytime if it would help free the hostages' held by Iranian-backed militants in Lebanon and agreed to take the call after ``various methods were used' to try to determine if the caller was genuine. Ultimately, however, ``it was determined to be a hoax.'

Hart would not say how long the call lasted or whether the hoax was discovered while Bush was still speaking to the faker. CBS reported that the call lasted at least long enough for Bush to repeat U.S. policy ``that good will will beget good will, but there could be no quid pro quo for U.S. hostages.' Hart, however, said that he could not confirm that report. ``I don't have any other details,' he said.

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