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Video: Quran-burning pastor in confused shambles

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    >>> good evening from new york . this just in from kerry sanders in florida . we're a little back to square one he now quotes pastor terry jones of the dove church in that state. i'm praying, he tells sanders, to decide what to do next. two days before the ninth anniversary of 9/11, 48 hours before the planned burning of korans by a small florida church and our fifth story on the countdown tonight. the pastor of the church said the burning was canceled. it is too late to call back no matter what happens next already rippling through afghanistan. we'll have that later in the hour. we begin with pastor jones of the dove world outreach center in gainesville, florida , decided months to go to burn korans to take a stand against radical islam and american accommodation of it. despite a direct appeal by president obama via abc news today on that program and despite a personal appeal in a phone call from defense secretary gates today because of the violence it could inspire against u.s. troops . jones continued to say only god's word would sway him. that word apparently came today from our guest or via our guest standing by from the islamic society of central florida who says he has arranged a meeting between jones and the imam of the islamic center planned for two blocks from ground zero in new york city . jones described this as a deal to move that islamic center in new york and said then that not only was he canceling his koran burning saturday but that no one should burn any korans. that was what he said then.

    >> we are of course now against any other group burning korans obviously. we have accomplished our goal. we have accomplished what we feel god wants us to do. we would right now ask no one to burn korans. we are very, very strong on that. as strong as we were that they shouldn't burn korans. it is not the time to do it.

    >> mr. jones was told, however, that new york organizers of that islamic center have not agreed to move it jones was asked whether he felt tricked in exactly what he was told.

    >> the imam would move the mosque from ground zero . i was told he cannot move it tomorrow. i said that is fine. it cannot be in ten years. those were exact words i said. the man said that's fine. i said now he has agreed to move the mosque away from the ground zero area. yes, he has. that's what i was told. do i feel tricked? yes, of course. i don't feel tricked. i was lied to. that's why at this time i'm not prepared to believe that. i'm not prepared to make that accusation. i want to just wait and see and i'm right now believing his word. i find it very hard to believe that he would lie to me.

    >> that was followed by jones ' associate pastor coming out to reporters this evening and suggesting they might return to being just as for burning korans as they are currently against burning korans if the new york city islamic center does not move.

    >> we have not canceled the burning on saturday. we've suspended it until we get a confirmation on the information we were given today in a meeting full of different members of the church on what was said.

    >> with us now as promised, an imam from islamic society of central florida . thank you for joining us today. we appreciate it sincerely.

    >> thank you, keith. glad to be here.

    >> where does this stand? do you know? pastor jones seem to think the leaders of the new york center agreed to move the center further away from the location of ground zero . do you know about that? what exactly do you know?

    >> prior to going inside to meet with him when i submitted a request to meet with him, i spent an hour in the sun and during that time i talked to the media and explained exactly what i came to do. and that's exactly what i went inside and did and that is i told him i arranged for a meeting between me, himself and the imam and that the imam in new york has through his office agreed for us to meet up in new york if he gives up the event on saturday. i told him clearly i am not in any way connected to the event in new york . i have no control over it. i cannot promise you that it will be moved but my position is for it to be relocated to a more ideal position some whewhere we can avoid the controversy on that side. i said i advocate for that prior to this incident here and i'm willing to go personally to new york to do that. he clearly understood that there were no cut deals over there in new york . neither him nor i spoke to the imam in new york and we were under no impression that a deal has been made. a deal where he gives up this and the imam in new york gives up that.

    >> if there was no deal, what's your reaction to him saying he was going to new york to arrange how quickly and far away the park 51 center was going to be moved?

    >> the main reason that we came out and he agreed to call off the event on saturday was not centered on what's happening in new york or not. it was based on the fact that today is the last day of ramadan and tomorrow morning in a few hours in the middle east and throughout the world, muslims will be celebrating one of the two holiest days and during that hundreds of millions of people will be heading to mosques where a message will be delivered by imams, some of whom are radical and may use his event on saturday to radicalize the use and to turn people against us in the united states so i told him time is of the essence . if you wait until friday or saturday, it will be too little too late any way. you have to make a decision now and so people across the world will hear your message that you canceled this so that tomorrow morning we would not see riots and see demonstrations in the streets of pakistan, afghanistan and elsewhere.

    >> imam musri, the premise of this as you left the first meeting with pastor jones as you understood it and as you understood him to understand it was you believe that it would be a good gesture if the new york center was moved further away from ground zero . you agreed with that. you were going join him in new york to talk about the prospect of doing and that perhaps to advocate for that as a gesture of good will as the stopping of the burning of korans would be. is that the way you thought it was when you left that meeting?

    >> precisely. i repeated that three or four times inside the building.

    >> let me ask you one question about that that equates -- essentially the burning of the korans and building of this islamic community center at new york at some distance from ground zero , these two things have somehow become equated or perhaps conflated. why are these things even remotely connected and why shouldn't there be an islamic center exactly where they have it planned at 51 park place in manhattan?

    >> i did not think they were connected at all. i thought that he connected them clearly when he stepped out in front of the cameras but inside i told him those are two separate issues completely separate. and the issue of burning the koran is something that will trigger reaction across the muslim world and it is not concurrent with his christian beliefs but the project in new york is something totally different. it is not breaking any law. it is in the constitutional rights of the muslim community of new york to do it. i told him my personal take on it that respecting the wishes of large number of americans who feel the controversy could be avoided by relocating the mosque, i said i'm for that position at this point. and i wish to talk to the imam in new york on that but these two events are not linked at all in my opinion.

    >> i'll close where i began in trying to understand where it all stands right now. do you understand where it all stands right now? is this church going to go ahead with the latest pledge not to do anything on saturday? is that at least going to happen? will there be a meeting? are you going to new york ?

    >> i believe that pastor jones would keep his words. that's what i urge of him. and otherwise all that we have done for two days in a row will go to waste. it wasn't just what i told him but it was the many christian leaders who called him and the messages from president obama to the secretary of defense, everybody talked to him. it wasn't me but i gave him a face to see a muslim in front of him and talk to him and direct his frustration and anger towards me rather than to something he never seen. and towards a book. so he feels that we have a deal, and he is going to give me the time to make the contact with new york and arrange for the meeting and followthrough with our planned event to meet with the imam and try to reach a deal there. but i do not believe at this time that pastor jones will go back to what he was planning to do on saturday.

    >> hopefully that is the truth. imam muhammad musri, thank you for your time tonight.

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 9/9/2010 9:29:07 PM ET 2010-09-10T01:29:07

The Florida pastor whose plan to burn Qurans on Sept. 11 generated worldwide outrage among Muslims and pressure by the U.S. government to relent said late Thursday that he might not call off the protest after all.

Pastor Terry Jones told NBC News that "we are a little back to square one" after a supposed deal involving a proposed Islamic cultural center in New York evaporated.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Jones had said he was canceling the Quran burning because a Muslim imam had assured him that the proposed Islamic center could be moved away from the World Trade Center site in return.

Image: Terry Jones and Imam Musri
Phil Sandlin  /  AP
Pastor Terry Jones speaks to the media, joined by Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, on Thursday in Gainesville, Fla.

But the imam proposing to build the Islamic center near the World Trade Center denied that a deal had been struck to move the project.

"I am glad that Pastor Jones has decided not to burn any Qurans," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said in a statement. "However, I have not spoken to Pastor Jones or Imam Musri (of Florida). I am surprised by their announcement. We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony."

After that statement, Jones said the Quran burning had only been suspended.

"Given what we are now hearing, we are forced to rethink our decision," Jones said. "So as of right now, we are not canceling the event, but we are suspending it."

Jones wouldn't say if the church would burn Qurans but said "I'm praying" to decide what to do next.

At Jones' first press conference, he appeared with Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida and said that Musri had told him that the mosque would be moved.

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"We are canceling the event because we have agreed, I take him at his word, he has agreed to move the Ground Zero mosque," Jones said. "I verified that three or four times with witnesses. I trust that man who gave me that. I believe he is a man of integrity, a man of his word, I do not believe that he lied to me."

Musri thanked Jones and his church members "for making the decision today to defuse the situation and bring to a positive end what has become the world over a spectacle that no one would benefit from except extremists and terrorists."

But later on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," Musri said that Jones was wrong about what he had said about the mosque. He said what he offered was a meeting among Jones, the New York imam and himself to talk about moving the mosque if Jones agreed to cancel the Quran burning.

Musri said that he had told Jones that with the ending of the Ramadan holiday, Muslims around the world would be praying at mosques and radical clerics might exploit the Quran burning to foment hatred against Americans. Musri said he told Jones that "time was of the essence" if he was going to cancel the burning.

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Video: Quran-burning pastor in confused shambles (on this page)

"I told him clearly I am not in any way connected to the event in New York. I have no control over it. I cannot promise you that it will be moved. But my position is for it to be relocated to a more ideal somewhere we can avoid the controversy that's going on on that site."

Musri said he told Jones he was willing to go to New York to advocate for such a move and that Jones clearly understood there was no deal.

But after the statements by the New York imam and Musri, Jones said they "clearly, clearly lied to us" about moving the mosque.

Jones had been under pressure from the U.S. government to cancel the protest. President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and others had warned that the protest could bring attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Earlier Thursday, Obama implored Jones to call off his Quran-burning "stunt," telling ABC's "Good Morning America" in an interview aired Thursday that he hopes Jones listens to "those better angels."

"And as a very practical matter, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform," Obama said.

Jones, leader of a small Pentecostal church with about 30 members in Gainesville, had been planning to burn copies of the Islamic holy book on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Look, this is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida," Obama said of the planned burning. "You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan." The president also said Jones' plan, if carried out, could serve as an incentive for terrorist-minded individuals "to blow themselves up" to kill others.

Video: Quran-burning pastor in confused shambles (on this page)

Jones had said that a call from the Pentagon, State Department or White House might make him reconsider his plan.

On Thursday, Jones said Pentagon chief Robert Gates had called him to urge he back off.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell confirmed the call took place.

"They had a very brief conversation during which he expressed to the pastor his grave concern that going forward would put lives at risk, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he urged him not to proceed with it," Morrell said.

The decision for Gates to make the call was a "collective" one, according to Morrell, but he did not elaborate.

"If that phone call could potentially save the life of one man or woman in uniform then it is a call worth placing," he said.

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Obama has gotten caught up in the burgeoning controversy surrounding the practice of Islam in America, saying at one point that he believed that Muslims had a right to build a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York City.

The State Department is cautioning Americans worldwide that there is a "high potential" for violent anti-American demonstrations if the church goes through with its plans. Officials noted that demonstrations have already been reported in Afghanistan and Indonesia and they urged Americans abroad to avoid areas where protesters might gather.

NBC News' Kerry Sanders and Courtney Kube contributed to this article, which includes reporting from The Associated Press and Reuters.

Explainer: What they're saying about Quran burning plan

  • Image: Church leader says no plans to cancel burning of the Koran.
    STEVE JOHNSON  /  EPA
    Dove World Outreach Center pastor Terry Jones speaks at a news conference Wednesday at his Gainesville, Fla., church.

    Many people from Sarah Palin to Hillary Clinton are weighing in on plans by the Rev. Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11 at his Gainesville, Fla., church. The issue has generated anger among Muslims abroad and concern among U.S. military officers of retaliation against troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. See what they have to say:

  • Pastor Terry Jones, at Wednesday news conference:

    Wednesday: "As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing. Our burning of the Quran is to call attention to the fact that something is wrong."

    Thursday: Jones at a news conference said he prayed about the decision and that if the site of the Islamic center and mosque near ground zero was moved, it would be a sign from God to call off the Quran burning: "The imam has agreed to move the mosque, we have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday. ... We are, of course, now against any other group burning Qurans. We would right now ask no one to burn Qurans. We are absolutely strong on that. It is not the time to do it."

    Later Thursday: "We have not canceled the burning on Saturday; we have suspended it until we get confirmation on the information we were given today. ... We are a little back to square one. I'm praying" to decide what to do next."

  • Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, after news conference with Pastor Jones:

    Image: Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Socie
    PAUL J. RICHARDS  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Imam Muhammad Musri

    "I told the pastor that I personally believe the mosque should not be there, and I will do everything in my power to make sure it is moved. But there is not any offer from there (New York) that it will be moved. All we have agreed to is a meeting, and I think we would all like to see a peaceful resolution."

  • New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, in prepared statement:

    Image: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in Dubai
    ALI HAIDER  /  EPA
    American Sufi Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

    "I am glad that Pastor Jones has decided not to burn any Korans. However, I have not spoken to Pastor Jones or Imam Musri. I am surprised by their announcement. We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony."

  • President Barack Obama, speaking on ABC's ''Good Morning America'' program:

    Image: US Presodent Obama returns from Camp David
    Yuri Gripas  /  Pool via EPA
    President Barack Obama

    "I just hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans. That this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance. ... This is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida. ... You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who'd be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities."

  • Gen. David Petraeus, top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, to NBC's Brian Williams:

    Image: US Army Gen. David Petraeus, Comm
    AFP - Getty Images
    Gen. David Petraeus

    “We’re concerned that the images from the burning of a Quran would be used in the same way that extremists used images from Abu Ghraib — that they would in a sense be indelible.

    "They would be used by those who wish us ill, to incite violence and to enflame public opinion against us and against our mission here in Afghanistan, as well as our missions undoubtedly around the world.”

  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations:

    Image: Clinton Delivers Foreign Policy Speech At Council On Foreign Relations
    Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

    "It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distrustful, disgraceful plan and get the world's attention, but that's the world we live in right now."

    See video.

  • Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, from her Facebook page:

    Image: Sarah Palin
    Alex Brandon  /  AP
    Former Gov. Sarah Palin

    "I would hope that Pastor Terry Jones and his supporters will consider the ramifications of their planned book-burning event. It will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric and appear as nothing more than mean-spirited religious intolerance. Don’t feed that fire. If your ultimate point is to prove that the Christian teachings of mercy, justice, freedom, and equality provide the foundation on which our country stands, then your tactic to prove this point is totally counter-productive."

  • Mohammad Mukhtar, cleric and candidate for Afghan parliament in Sept. 18 election:

    "It is the duty of Muslims to react. When their holy book Quran gets burned in public, then there is nothing left. If this happens, I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed. No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed."

  • Glenn Beck, Fox talk-show host, on his blog:

    Image: Glenn Beck Hosts Controversial "Restoring Honor" Rally At Lincoln Memorial
    Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
    Glenn Beck

    "What is wrong with us? It’s just like the Ground Zero mosque plan. Does this church have the right? Yes. Should they? No. And not because of the potential backlash or violence. Simply because it is wrong. The more I reflect on what happened on 8/28 the more I realize the amazing power of GOOD. ... Burning the Koran is like burning the flag or the Bible. You can do it, but whose heart will you change by doing it? You will only harden the hearts of those who could be moved."

  • Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and presumed 2012 presidential candidate, to Politico:

    Image: Mitt Romney
    Cliff Owen  /  AP file
    Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

    “Burning the Quran is wrong on every level. It puts troops in danger, and it violates a founding principle of our republic.”

  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at news conference about construction at Twin Towers site:

    Image: New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
    Jemal Countess  /  Getty Images
    New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

    "In a strange way, I'm here to defend his (Jones') right to do that. I happen to think that it is distasteful. I don't think he would like it if somebody burned a book that in his religion he thinks is holy. We can't say that we're going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement."

  • Haley Barbour, Mississippi governor and chair of the Republican Governors Association, at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast:

    Image: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour
    Joe Raedle  /  Getty Images
    Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour

    “I do not think well of the idea of burning anybody’s Koran or Bible or Book of Mormon or anything else. I don’t think there is any excuse for it. ... But I will tell you this. Any issue that takes people's eye off of unemployment, job creation, economic growth, taxes, spending, deficits, debts is taking your eye off the ball.”

  • James Jeffrey, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, in a joint statement:

    Image: US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey spea
    Ali Al-saadi  /  AFP - Getty Images
    US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey
    Image: Commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin speaks in Baghdad
    Thaier Al-sudani  /  Reuters
    Commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin

    The plan is "disrespectful, divisive and disgraceful. ... As this holy month of Ramadan comes to a close and Iraqis prepare to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, we join with the citizens of Iraq and of every nation to repudiate religious intolerance and to respect and defend the diversity of faiths of our fellow man."

  • Ann Coulter, author, conservative commentator, on her web site:

    Image: Ann Coulter
    Jason Kempin  /  WireImage file
    Ann Coulter

    "The reason not to burn Qurans is that it's unkind — not to jihadists, but to Muslims who mean us no harm. The same goes for building a mosque at ground zero — in both cases, it's not a question of anyone's 'rights,' it's just a nasty thing to do.

  • Julius Scruggs, the president of the National Baptist Convention, in Kansas City, quoted on Fox4kc.com:

    Image: Rev. Julius Scruggs
    Lance Murphey  /  AP file
    Rev. Julius Scruggs

    "As a Christian pastor I don't advocate burning a Koran. I wouldn't want a Muslim to burn a Bible. There's a better way to disagree, if you want to disagree, than to publicly disgrace a religion by burning its holy book."

  • The Vatican's ''Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue'' statement:

    The "deplorable acts of violence" demonstrated on 9/11 "cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community." The 9/11 anniversary should be a moment "to offer our deep sentiments of solidarity with those who were struck by these horrendous terrorists attacks."

  • Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Sadeghi Golpaygani, according to Fars News, in Wall Street Journal:

    "The dangers of this despicable action are clear to all. It will ignite massive fires of anger and hatred toward America. The U.S. government and president will be held accountable if this happens in their country."

  • Brandon Hensler, Florida ACLU spokesman, to local media:

    "You can't pick and choose who's protected by the Constitution. People would like to see his (Jones') speech shut down, but that would just make him a martyr."

  • Televangelist Pat Robertson, on the 700 Club:

    Image: Pat Robertson
    Michael Smith  /  Getty Images file
    Pat Robertson

    "Can you imagine a pastor that is so egotistical that he would sacrifice the lives of missionaries and soldiers to go forward with it? … This guy is looking for attention. He's looking for publicity. ... I think it's horrible what this guy is doing."

  • Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, on her blog:

    Image: Michelle Malkin
    Steven Lane  /  AP file
    Michelle Malkin

    "Gen. Petraeus says (Jones') provocation endangers the troops. But what's in the Koran is far more of an inflammatory threat to American soldiers than any match with which to light it. What's in the Koran has inspired decades of bloody warfare by Muslim operatives targeting our troops, civilians, and Western infidels around the world. ... Instead of burning the Koran, Americans need to be reading it, understanding it, and educating themselves about the Koran passages, Islamic history, and jihadi context that brought us to this 9th anniversary year of the 9/11 attacks."

  • Statement from spokesman for U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron:

    Image: British Prime Minister David Cameron
    Pool  /  Reuters
    Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron

    "Primarily this is an issue for the U.S., but clearly the government's view is that we would not condone the burning of any book. ... We would strongly oppose any attempt to offend any member of any religious or ethnic group. ... We are committed to religious tolerance."

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