U.S. President Barack Obama has spoken out strongly against a Florida minister's plan to burn copies of the Quran, and White House officials say they may try to contact the pastor directly to get him to change his plans.
The Reverend Terry Jones has said repeatedly this week that he intends to burn Qurans on Saturday, September 11, as a protest against "radical Islam." But on Thursday he added that he would re-examine his plan if he was contacted by officials at the White House, Pentagon or State Department.
President Obama said publicly burning the Quran is a destructive and dangerous act. He also said the minister's plan is an attention-seeking "stunt" that could endanger U.S. troops, but also is a valid exercise of free-speech rights under the U.S. legal system.
Mr. Obama said the Florida protest could turn out to be "a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida" and trigger violent counter-protests.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday that Quran burnings could set back the U.S. government's efforts to demonstrate that it is not at war with Islam, but is at war with those who "perverted the values and beliefs of that religion."
Gibbs and other senior officials said they are discussing how to respond to Jones' hint that he might suspend his book-burning plan, out of concern that the minister's tactics could "provoke other extremists" to threaten spectacular protests in order to get attention.
The U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert Thursday warning U.S. citizens of the potential for anti-U.S. demonstrations in other countries in response to the Quran burning plans.
Mr. Obama's warnings about possible threats to U.S. soldiers in places like Afghanistan have been echoed by the top military commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, and the head of the NATO alliance, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Jones leads the Dove World Outreach Center, a church in Gainesville, Florida, that has about 50 members. He has said he is aware his plan calls for desecration of Islam's holiest symbol, but that the action is intended to emphasize his opposition to "radical" Muslims.
The Internet service company that hosts the Dove center's websites (Rackspace) has terminated its contract with the church in response to the controversy, and the church's website is no longer accessible. A spokesman said the church violated the company's policy forbidding hate speech.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Thursday it is launching an educational program called "Learn, Don't Burn" to counter the minister's plans to burn 200 Qurans by distributing 200,000 more copies of the holy book free.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki predicted that burning Qurans would be "a pretext" for extremists to carry out more killings.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the minister's plan is "disgraceful," and that is regrettable that such an obscure congregation can command so much attention worldwide.