Obama Asks Rev. Terry Jones to Call Off ‘Burn-a-Koran’ Day

The president fears the Koran burning would fuel outrage and hatred that could target American troops.

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By Michael Sheridan
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

President Obama is appealing to a Florida pastor to listen to the "better angels" of his nature, and call off his incendiary plan to burn Korans on 9/11.

The commander-in-chief fears, as many others have said, that Rev. Terry Jones' "destructive" book burning would spark outrage and fuel the fires of hatred that could target American troops.

"If he's listening, I just hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values [as] Americans," Obama told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday.

Jones, a preacher from Gainesville, Fla., has said for months that he plans to burn several hundred Korans on September 11 for an event he's dubbed, "International Burn-a-Koran Day."

It went largely dismissed, until violent protests in Afghanistan and Indonesia over the weekend sparked concerns the event could incite more violence.

"I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan," Obama told Stephanopoulos.

The President argued the stunt could be used as a "recruitment bonanza" for Al Qaeda.

"You know, you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan," he said. "This could increase the recruitment of individuals who'd be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities."

Obama also hinted that should Jones, 58, go through with his book burning, he could be scorched with legal consequences.

"My understanding is that he can be cited for public burning," the President said. "But that's the extent of the laws that we have available to us."

Jones, who heads the Dove World Outreach Church, has gotten heat from government officials, military leaders and others in the last few days over his "Koran" event.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," Gen. David Petraeus said on Monday.

"This feeds right into what they want," Gen. Ray Odierno said on NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the plan "disgraceful," Attorney General Eric Holder labeled it "idiotic," while Mayor Bloomberg felt it was "disgraceful," although he defended Rev. Jones' right to do it.

"I happen to think that it is distasteful," he said. But "the First Amendment protects everybody, and you can't say that we're going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement."

Even the White House's usual political opponents agree with Obama. Sarah Palin has called the Koran burning "antithetical to American ideals," while Fox News pundit Glenn Beck said it was "insensitive and an unnecessary provocation."

The FBI has warned that Jones, who carries a gun in response to death threats, is putting himself in danger for "International Burn-a-Koran Day."

"The FBI assesses with high confidence that, as with past incidents perceived as acts of desecration against Islam, extremist actors will continue to threaten or attempt to harm the leaders, organizers, or attendees [of] the event," an FBI intelligence bulletin obtained by ABC News said.

Jones vows to go through with his book burning, despite the warnings.

"We have firmly made up our mind," he said Tuesday. The preacher also had something to say to those who think he should call it off.

"We are simply burning a book," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "General [Petraeus] needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them."