For the first time, President Bush today directly condemned the widespread violence over political cartoons that depicted the Muslim Prophet Muhammed and also called on the press to be "thoughtful" when exercising its freedoms.
The cartoons, which first ran in a Danish newspaper and have since been published around the world, have sparked angry riots across the globe that have claimed several lives so far.
"We reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in the free press," Bush told reporters after an Oval Office meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II. He also called for all governments to "stop the violence, to be respectful, to protect property [and] protect the lives of innocent diplomats who are serving their countries overseas."
King Abdullah agreed with Bush, saying "when we see violence, especially if it ends up taking the lives of innocent people, [it] is completely unacceptable."
Bush went out of his way to reiterate his support for press freedoms but added the stern caveat, "With freedom comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others."
Abdullah said that while he respects press freedoms, "anything that vilifies the Prophet Muhammed or attacks Muslim sensibilities ... needs to be condemned." Bush called for tolerance; Abdullah called for acceptance.
The cartoons, which were first published last fall and recently reprinted, show the Prophet Muhammed in several frames, including one in which he wears a turban shaped like a bomb.
Violence erupted late last week, and protests have continued across 20 locations, from Indonesia to the West Bank.
Also on the agenda for the two leaders was Iran, specifically how best to reach out to the people of that country to instigate change; how to continue to work on the Middle East peace plan now that Hamas has won the election in the Palestinian territories; and how to train police and assure security along the Iraq-Jordan border, a White House official said.
This was Abdullah's seventh visit to the White House to meet with President Bush and their ninth meeting since Bush took office in 2001.