Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent ABC News' Martha Raddatz interviewed International Security Assistance Force Commander U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan.
MARTHA RADDATZ: General, let's start with the developments overnight. And we spoke yesterday -- in the helicopter on your battlefield circulation about what was happening with the planned burning of the Koran. It looks like now, that the pastor in Florida says he will either put it on hold or not go ahead with it. Your reaction to that and whether the damage is already done.
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, that obviously would be positive. There has been some damage done. You've seen it. You've seen, you've heard of the demonstrations here in Afghanistan -- there are already in a sense images if you will implanted in minds albeit not with photos of something as inflammatory as the burning of a Quaran. But let me perhaps start off by saying, you know, this is not a first amendment issue to me. This is an issue of a commander who is responsible for the safety of America's sons and daughters. Sons and daughters of -- over 47 other coalition countries. And it puts their lives in jeopardy, in some cases. This is about their safety. It's about their security. I defended the right of others to attack me in -- in the past. You may recall on I think it was the 11th of September.
PETRAEUS: MoveOn.org took out a full page ad attacking me personally -- on the morning of the hearings back in Washington with Ambassador Crocker on Iraq. And I was asked about that later, and obviously, I didn't applaud as I opened the newspaper and saw that. But I did state that we fought for the right of individuals to do just what they did.
So, I am a firm believer in First Amendment rights. But in this case, of course, it's one of those -- issues where one person's exercise of freedom of expression jeopardizes the safety of tens of thousands of others -- hundreds of thousands of others, probably, around the world. And could do -- very significant damage to the image of the United States around the world, as well.
RADDATZ: Could it also be that because Secretary Gates intervened, because you made comments, because there was such -- such outrage about this. That, in fact, it could have the opposite effect. That people may say, "This man tried to burn the Koran and he was stopped."
PETRAEUS: It's in the sense of -- of it being a positive effect, is that what you're…
RADDATZ: the best outcome possible from that. That it -- that it could in fact something you could capitalize on.
PETRAEUS: I think it could be. I think it could be. I think that -- when you saw the outpouring -- of emotion, of rejection of such an action by so many Americans. From all areas, all walks of life -- all segments of our population. I think that sent a very powerful message to those of the Islamic faith around the world. I've had conversations with -- with Afghans who have said, "Thank you for speaking out on this. Thanks for -- being in a sense a voice of reason. And please extend our appreciation to all the others -- who have done likewise." I've also received, I might add -- numerous emails from -- members of our ranks here in Afghanistan and also from a number of mothers and fathers back in the United States.