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Did Obama 'elevate' Florida pastor?

Mark Mardell | 17:24 UK time, Friday, 10 September 2010

President Barack Obama has explained why he dealt so directly with a small Florida church's plan to burn copies of the Koran, and he addressed the concern that his response creates a situation in which any fringe group can grab the attention of the White House and the world by making such threats.

The news conference was dominated by questions about the economy, but the president made it clear that the burn threat could do "profound damage" to America's national interest.

"The idea that we would burn the sacred text of someone else's religion is contrary to what this country stands for," he said.

He was asked why nine years after 9/11, America seems more uneasy about Islam than ever before. He replied that at a time when the country was anxious, fears and divisions could surface. He said that one of the things he admired most about former President George W Bush was his insistence that America was not at war with Islam but with killers and terrorists.

He talked of his own Christian faith and said he understood religion could provoke passion, but that America was one nation under God, whatever the name of that God.

Asked directly if he had "elevated" the pastor, he said that he didn't want a situation where anyone in the country who wanted attention could get it by threatening to burn a Koran. But he said as commander in chief of the US military, he had a clear duty to send a message. It is indeed an awkward dilemma, and while the president will be criticised for speaking out, not answering the questions clearly would be unthinkable. Expressing his concern doesn't really answer whether he will speak out every time someone proposes a similar stunt.

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