BANGKOK, Thailand – President Bush (search) on Monday personally condemned the Malaysian prime minister for his statement that Jews rule the world, pulling Mahathir Mohamad (search) aside at an international economic meeting to tell him the remarks were "wrong and divisive," Bush's spokesman said.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan quoted Bush as telling the Malaysian leader, "It stands squarely against what I believe in."
Bush confronted Mahathir between meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (search), McClellan said, inserting himself into a simmering controversy.
Earlier Monday, Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, signaled Bush's disapproval as he sat down in the same room with Mahathir and 19 other leaders. It is the last of the annual forums that Mahathir will attend before retiring Oct. 31 after 22 years in power.
Mahathir, Asia's senior statesman in Asia whose pugnacious, articulate speeches against globalization and U.S. policy in the Middle East have a strong following, triggered an uproar last week at a summit of Islamic countries by stating that "Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."
The thrust of his address was that the world's 1.3 billion Muslims had been outmaneuvered by "a few million Jews" and needed to give up violence in favor of using greater unity and improved education to defend their interests peacefully. But the comments about Jews prompted outrage from Washington, Australia and the European Union.
"Everyone thinks the comments were hateful, they are outrageous," Rice told reporters. Bush "thinks those remarks were reprehensible. I do not think they are emblematic of the Muslim world," she said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar focused on the fallout in one-on-one in talks.
Syed Hamid said afterward that he had stressed to Powell that Mahathir's speech was mostly critical of Muslims, with just "one or two portions" that created problems.
"He knows that the bulk of the contents of the speech contains a lot of good ideas," Syed Hamid said.
Powell did not speak to reporters.
The outraged Western reaction was in marked contrast to the standing ovation Mahathir received from the leaders of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference — including several U.S. allies.
Mahathir has contended that his remarks about Jews were "stating the facts." However, he didn't bring up the dispute during an APEC panel discussion Monday on globalization.
The tone between Kuala Lumpur and Washington has deteriorated since Bush invited Mahathir to the White House in May 2002 and praised him as an ally in the war against terrorism.
In the weeks before the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Mahathir denounced the United States as preparing a racist attack against nonwhite Muslims. The comments earned a rebuke to Malaysia's ambassador in Washington.