A Christian minister whose plans to burn copies of the Koran led to an international outcry says those plans are now on hold.
Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Florida, initially said on September 9 he had canceled the Koran burning planned for September 11.
The initiative, to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, was roundly condemned by President Barack Obama, who called it a "recruitment bonanza" for terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.
At a news conference, Jones said he was canceling the plans because the leader of a controversial project to build an Islamic center near the site of the September 11 attacks in New York City had agreed to move the project to another location.
"I will be flying up [to New York] on Saturday to meet with the imam on the Ground Zero mosque. He has agreed to move the location. That, of course, cannot happen overnight, but he has agreed to move that," Jones said.
"We felt that that would be a sign that God would want us to do it. The American people do not want the mosque there and, of course, Muslims do not want us to burn the Koran."
But Jones's announcement was thrown in doubt almost immediately after it was made. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the planned center in Lower Manhattan, denied that he had agreed to relocate the facility. He said he welcomed Jones's decision "not to burn any Korans," but had not spoken to Jones, adding, "Nor are we going to barter."
The relocation deal was said to have been brokered by Muhammad Musri, a Florida imam who has consulted with Jones in recent days. Musri later conceded that he had not spoken directly with the Rauf and that no actual offer to move the facility had been made.
Jones then said he had been misled by Musri and that he was now rethinking his decision on whether to burn the Muslim holy book. He told NBC television, "As of right now, we are not canceling the event, but we are suspending it."
The New York City center has generated intense controversy, with opponents arguing that its location a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center attacks was insensitive to the victims and their family members.
President Obama has expressed his support for the right of the developers to build the Islamic center and emphasized the distinction between radical extremists and the religion of Islam itself.
The burning plan by Jones, who heads the small Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, had been criticized by political and religious leaders from around the world.
The Pentagon said that before Jones made his original announcement, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had telephoned the pastor and asked him not to burn the Koran.
Earlier in the day, Obama had weighed in, describing Jones' plans as "destructive," and saying the move would inflame tensions in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"If [Jones] is listening, I just hope he understands that what he is 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," Obama said.
U.S. military leaders, foreign heads of state, and religious leaders around the globe also denounced the plans.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking on September 8 at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington, D.C., think tank, described the Florida protest as a reckless action that did not reflect mainstream thinking in the United States.
"It's regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people, can make this outrageous and distressful, disgraceful plan and get the world's attention," said Clinton. "But that's the world we live in right now. It doesn't in any way represent America, or Americans, or American government, or American religious or political leadership."
Officials in countries with large Muslim populations like Indonesia, Malaysia, and India also appealed to Obama to stop Jones.
Little is known about Jones's Dove World Outreach Center, which has no official affiliation with other religious organizations and has just 50 members. The church follows the Pentecostal tradition, whose followers believe in the direct experience of the presence of God, and see the Bible as the literal word of God.
Jones has presided over the church for just two years. Prior to that, he served as the pastor of an affiliated evangelical church that he founded in the 1980s in Cologne, Germany.
He was ousted from his position in 2008 for what German evangelical authorities called "untenable theological statements and an addiction to personal recognition." Members of the Cologne church have described a "climate of fear and control" under his leadership.
compiled from agency material
U.S. Pastor's Koran-Burning Plans 'On Hold'