Fla. pastor calls off Quran burning

A Florida pastor who had planned to burn copies of the Quran Saturday on the anniversary of 9/11 said Thursday he had canceled the event as part of a deal to move the proposed Islamic center farther away from Ground Zero.

Under immense pressure by political leaders on both sides of the spectrum, Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., said in a press conference late Thursday afternoon that he would not hold his "International Burn a Koran Day" event.

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He said he would travel to New York City on Saturday to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim leader in charge of efforts to build the Islamic center, which included a mosque and had sparked intense political debate.

However, it is unclear whether Rauf intended to meet Jones. Reuters reported after the Jones press conference that sources close to Rauf said there was no plan to move the center.

Jones's decision came after his plans were heavily criticized by President Obama and other national political leaders from both parties, as well as military leaders. All warned that the inflammatory plans would spark violence against U.S. soldiers.

Jones said his church had been looking for signs from God as it tried to decide whether to go ahead with the book burning. The church would cancel the event, the pastor said, "if they were either willing to cancel the mosque at Ground Zero, or if they were willing to move it from that location — we would consider that a sign from God."

"He has been in contact with the imam in New York City," Jones explained, apparently referring to God. "He has agreed to move the location."

The controversial Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., which has long staged pickets of soldiers' funerals, reportedly has vowed to host its own Quran burning if Jones cancels his.

Both ends of the political spectrum had united in denouncing Jones's plans. Obama, in his first public remarks about the event, warned the stunt would endanger U.S. soldiers and could be used as a terrorist recruitment tool.

"As a very practical matter, as commander of chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, 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 ABC's "Good Morning America." "This could increase the recruitment of individuals who'd be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities."

Jones was also criticized by leaders of the Republican Party, including 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Palin wrote on her Facebook page that burning the Quran would be an “insensitive and unnecessary provocation” of Muslims, but also questioned why the media are so focused on the event.

"It's not something that's a wise act on his part," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), a potential 2012 challenger to Obama, said on Minnesota Public Radio.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also implored the media to ignore the pastor, and agreed with Obama's description of the bonfire as a stunt.

“While I will defend any American’s First Amendment rights, our generals in the field tell us that the men and women defending those rights would be endangered as a result of this stunt,” McConnell said. "If this group insists on going forward, I would hope that members of the media will not reward them with what they crave most: news coverage.”

The White House highlighted the unusual unity amid a bitter election season.

“I think there are very few issues that we have seen unite across the political spectrum in the past couple of years,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said in his daily briefing. “This is certainly one of them.”

The unanimity stood in contrast to the battles surrounding Obama's support for the Islamic center being built near the site of the 9/11 attacks. Palin and other Republicans have blasted the president for his stance on that issue.

Criticism of Jones's plans also had poured in from other countries, raising concerns that the burning could trigger retribution and violence. The Voice of America reported that Pakistan warned the event would cause “irreparable” damage to world peace. India, which has the world's third largest Muslim population, called on the U.S. to take “strong action” against the event, according to VOA.

The State Department on Thursday issued a travel warning for U.S. citizens visiting countries with large Muslim populations. 

—This story was posted at 5:07 p.m. and updated at 5:58 p.m.