U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called plans by a small Florida evangelical church to burn copies of the Koran on September 11 a "disrespectful, disgraceful act."
Her comments Tuesday came during a dinner at the State Department to observe Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The Vatican says plans to burn copies of the Koran on September 11 would be an "outrageous and grave gesture."
A Vatican council on interreligious dialogue said Wednesday all religions have the right to respect and protection regarding their sacred books, places of worship and symbols. The council said "deplorable acts of violence" such as the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. cannot be counteracted by other acts of hatred.
The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen have warned that the planned torching of the Muslim holy book by the 50-member Dove World Outreach Center could endanger Western troops.
The church's pastor, Terry Jones, says he takes seriously the warnings about possible violence against Americans abroad. Jones, however, says he and his followers have made up their minds to go ahead with the protest, which would coincide with the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the United States.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday he defends the church's right to burn the books. He said that while he finds it distasteful, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects even unpopular speech.
The dispute comes at a time of already heated debate in the United States over a proposal to build a mosque and cultural center near the site in New York of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Bloomberg has been an outspoken advocate of the center.
General Petraeus said Tuesday the Koran burning could be exploited by the Taliban for propaganda purposes.
The NATO Secretary-General said during a visit to Washington the burning of Korans is in strong contradiction "with all the values we stand for and fight for."
Administration officials say the Florida pastor and his followers are within their constitutional rights to burn a Koran, just as U.S. anti-war protesters have burned American flags at demonstrations in the past.
The Florida church has been denied a local government permit to set a fire for the burning of the Korans, but vows to go ahead with it anyway.
The planned burning has also sparked protests in the Afghan capital, Kabul, where protesters Monday chanted "Death to America" as they rallied outside a mosque. Iran has warned the planned Koran burning could lead to uncontrolled emotions in Muslim countries.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.