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Bush Confronts Malaysian PM over Anti-Semitic Remarks - 2003-10-20

U.S. President George W. Bush has confronted Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed over anti-Semitic comments at a meeting of Muslim leaders. The two men spoke on the sidelines of an economic summit in Thailand.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush spoke with the Malaysian leader between afternoon meetings and told him that his comments at last week's Organization of Islamic Conference were wrong and divisive.

Mr. McClellan said President Bush told the Malaysian leader that his remarks stand squarely against what the president believes in.

Prime Minister Mahathir told the meeting in Malaysia that Jews rule the world by proxy and get others to fight and die for them. He said 1.3 billion Muslims could not be defeated by a few million Jews.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says the comments were hateful and outrageous and do not represent the views of most Muslims. She rejected suggestions that the comments will create further tensions with the Muslim world and make it harder for President Bush to get more countries to give money and troops for Iraq.

"I do not think that the comments that Prime Minister Mahathir made are emblematic of the Muslim world," said Ms. Rice. "The president has gone out of his way to talk about the fact that this is not a war of religions. This is not a - quote - 'war of civilizations.' This is a separation of people who hate and kill and maim, and people who are trying to build a peaceful world and send their kids to school without worrying about them blowing themselves up."

Ms. Rice says the key is for everyone to step back and give no cover for terrorist violence.

Mr. Mahathir's remarks drew widespread condemnation, but Malaysia said Western nations are over-reacting to the speech and took the prime minister's comments out of context, as they were meant only to rally the Muslim world.