White House defends Obama's apology for Quran burning

The White House is defending President Obama’s apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of Qurans in Afghanistan, which was labeled a “surrender” by one Republican presidential candidate.

Josh Earnest, White House principal deputy press secretary, told reporters Friday that Obama thought an apology to Karzai was “appropriate.” 

“He's putting the best interests and safety and welfare of our servicemembers and our civilians who are currently serving in Afghanistan right now,” Earnest said. “We have seen a spike in violence around this mistake, and the president believed it was in the best interest of their safety to make it clear that an apology was appropriate.”

Earnest said that Obama consulted with his security team before he made the decision to issue the apology.

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Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that the apology, which Obama expressed in a letter to Karzai, was equivalent to “surrender” at a campaign event in Washington state Thursday.

Gingrich said Obama should demand that Karzai apologize for the two American soldiers who were killed Thursday by a man dressed in an Afghan military uniform.

“If Hamid Karzai doesn’t feel like apologizing, then I feel like we should say goodbye and good luck. We don’t need to be here wasting our lives and wasting our money for somebody who doesn’t care,” Gingrich said.

Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin also criticized the apology, writing on her Facebook page: “Obama apologizes for the inadvertent Koran burning this week; now the U.S. trained and protected Afghan Army can apologize for killing two of our soldiers yesterday.”

Earnest said that Obama’s apology was similar to when President George W. Bush issued an apology to the Iraqi president over a Quran incident in 2008. "Those kinds of discussions are not altogether different,” he said.

Violence and protests have continued in Afghanistan in the wake of the Tuesday incident, when NATO soldiers burned Qurans and other religious materials at Bagram Air Field.

Obama was “gratified” that Karzai has appealed for calm, Earnest said.

In addition to Obama’s apology, Afghanistan commander Gen. John Allen and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued apologies on Tuesday. 

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