The leader of a small Christian church in the U.S. state of Florida says he has canceled plans to burn Qurans on Saturday. The minister's intention to burn the holy book of Islam caused international outrage, including condemnation from President Barack Obama.
The Reverend Terry Jones said Thursday he has called off his planned protest because he has reached an agreement with Muslim leaders in New York to move a planned Islamic cultural center and mosque away from the area of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
"The Imam has agreed to move the mosque," said Terry Jones. "We have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday, and on Saturday I will be flying up there to meet with him."
However, a statement from the cleric in charge of the New York mosque project said there was no agreement to move the location.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Jones Thursday and urged him not to torch the Islamic holy books. He told the minister his plan would endanger the lives of American soliders.
Jones' statements throughout the week that he planned to burn the Quran to protest terrorism set off angry protests and brought condemnation from world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama.
"What he is proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans," said President Obama. "This country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance."
In an interview Thursday with the ABC television program "Good Morning America," the President said burning the Quran would likely spark more violence and terrorism.
"This is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida," said Mr. Obama. "You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities."
Related report by Elizabeth Lee
Jones leads the Dove World Outreach Center, a Christian church in Gainesville, Florida, that has about 50 members and preaches anti-Islam philosophy.
Some anti-U.S. demonstrations have taken place, in response to the Quran burning plans. The U.S. State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert, warning Americans of the potential for anti-U.S. violence.
Nations around the world condemned the planned event, Pakistan, India, France, Britain and Bahrain among them.
The Roman Catholic Church expressed its disapproval, as did United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
"Such actions cannot be condoned by any religion," said Ban Ki-Moon. "They contradict efforts of the United Nations and many people around the world to promote tolerance, intercultural understanding, and mutual respect between cultures and religions."
The president of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, asked President Obama to intervene.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of free speech to every American, and prohibits the government from restricting the practice of religion.
Despite Mr. Obama's strong condemnation of the planned Quran-burning, he said it would be a valid exercise of free-speech rights under the U.S. legal system.
White House officials say the burning of the Quran would be a setback in administration efforts to improve U.S. relations with the Islamic world.
Also Thursday, the president extended a greeting to the world's Muslims for Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan. In the message, he encouraged Americans to contribute to a relief fund for victims of the recent floods in Pakistan.