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Video: Gen. Petraeus: Koran burning would endanger troops

  1. Transcript of: Gen. Petraeus: Koran burning would endanger troops

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Now we turn to the recent upswing in anti-Muslim activity in this country. Now we're seeing it sparking anti-American anger in some places. And with the 9/11 anniversary approaching, the best-known active duty four- star general , David Petraeus , the top US commander in Afghanistan , is issuing a strong warning to a pastor who says he's planning a Quran burning this weekend. The Obama administration is calling his threat un-American. We get more on all of it tonight from our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel .

    RICHARD ENGEL reporting: Demonstrators in Kabul angrily denouncing the United States . They burned flags and effigies and pelted stones at a passing US military convoy. Kabul , once one of the most isolated cities, is no longer cut off. The demonstrators were reacting to a tiny church in Gainesville , Florida . With just a few dozen members, the church has made headlines and Internet chatter with its anti-Muslim slogans and its plans to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11.

    Mr. TERRY JONES: We are going to have a international Burn a Quran Day .

    ENGEL: Church leader Terry Jones says the goal is to stand up to Islamic extremism .

    Mr. JONES: We believe our president plays it down. We believe that people are afraid of radical Islam . They're afraid to confront it.

    ENGEL: But the American commander in Afghanistan doesn't agree. General David Petraeus said the image of Americans burning a Quran could harm US troops and the war effort. In a statement today, Petraeus said, "The safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy, and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult." Americans burning a Quran , the general said, could be used as a propaganda tool and goes against the US military 's mission to win over the Afghan people . Today the White House said it agrees with General Petraeus .

    Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): Any type of activity like that would be -- that puts our troops in harm's way would be a concern to this administration.

    ENGEL: And the State Department called the proposed Quran burnings un-American.

    Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (United States State Department Spokesman): We think that these are provocative acts, they are disrespectful, they're intolerant, they're divisive.

    ENGEL: But so far the church, already denied a permit, isn't backing down.

    Mr JONES: If people should lose their life, that would be tragic. Still, I must say that we feel that we must sooner or later stand up to Islam .

    ENGEL: Today religious leaders spoke out against the event.

    Rabbi NANCY FUCHS-KREIMER (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College): The threatened burning of copies of the holy Quran this Saturday is a particularly egregious offense that demands the strongest possible condemnation.

    ENGEL: And polls suggest few Americans support anti-Muslim activities. The timing of this, Brian , is especially sensitive. The anniversary of 9/11 is just a few days away. It also coincidentally falls at the end of Ramadan , which is a Muslim holiday . So you could have a small group of Americans burning Qurans on a Muslim holiday on the 9/11 anniversary.

    WILLIAMS: A lot of people asking for a cooling down period. Richard Engel here with us in New York . Richard , thanks, as always.

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