Bush Urges Muslim Leaders to Calm Cartoon Furor

President Bush asks Muslim leaders around the world to help stop the violence that has erupted in several countries over cartoons depicting Muhammad. At the same time, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggests that Syria and Iran are using the cartoons to further inflame tensions.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. President Bush is asking Muslim leaders around the world to do what they can to end violent protests over cartoon images of the Prophet Muhammad. At least 10 people have reportedly died in the rioting. The cartoons first appeared in a Danish newspaper five months ago. They've been reprinted elsewhere as recently as today, in France. We'll have more on that in a few minutes.

NORRIS: President Bush's comments came after a White House meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah, who also denounced the violence, and the president's words were echoed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a separate event. She pointed to Syria and Iran, suggesting that their governments actually used the controversial cartoons to inflame tensions. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

DON GONYEA reporting:

These were President Bush's first public statements on the controversy and the subsequent violence in Muslim communities in the Middle East and Asia and in Africa. The president spoke in the Oval Office, where he was joined by Jordan's King Abdullah, who was here for a previously scheduled meeting to discuss the Mideast peace process as well as Iraq and the nuclear standoff with Iran.

In brief comments to reporters, the subject of the newspaper caricatures dominated. The president and the king each used carefully chosen words as they discussed a sensitive and still tense international situation. President Bush called for an end to violence and spoke of tolerance and understanding. And he said, "We believe in a free press." But he added this caution.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We also recognize that with freedom comes responsibilities. And with freedom comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others. And, finally, I have made it clear to His Majesty and he's made it clear to me that we reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in a free press.

GONYEA: For his part, however, King Abdullah took a harder line toward the decision to print the cartoons in newspapers.

KING ABDULLAH II (King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan): With all respect to press freedoms, obviously anything that vilifies the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, or attacks Muslim sensibilities I believe needs to be condemned.

GONYEA: Like President Bush, the king condemned the rioting, saying that those who want to protest should do it thoughtfully and articulately and that they should express their views peacefully.

KING ABDULLAH II: When we see protests, when we see destruction, when we see violence, especially if it ends up taking the lives of innocent people, it's completely unacceptable. Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is a religion of peace, tolerance, moderation.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, over at the State Department this afternoon, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice weighed in with a stronger statement on behalf of the administration. She also called for an end to violent demonstrations, and she went on to note that leaders in Afghanistan and Lebanon as well as Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Sistani, have all spoken out against the violence. But then she pointed the finger of blame at two other governments that she says are trying to benefit from the anger and unrest.

Secretary of State CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I don't have any doubt that given the control of the Syrian government in Syria, given the control of the Iranian government, which, by the way, hasn't even hidden its hand in this, that Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiment and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it.

GONYEA: One Iranian newspaper, meanwhile, has announced that it is seeking cartoons about the Holocaust for publication. In the Oval Office, President Bush said that the angry reaction to the cartoons requires a lot of discussion and sensitive thought. King Abdullah said he hopes lessons can be learned by all the nations involved.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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