WASHINGTON – In a gesture to Muslims, the State Department on Thursday set up a prayer room for some 150 guests invited to dinner by Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) to end their daylight Ramadan (search) fast.
Rugs were placed in the well-furnished room off to the side of the Ben Franklin dining room so the Muslims could observe the call to prayer that traditionally precedes the end of fasting at nightfall.
Afterward, the Muslims (search), men and women sitting side by side, dined on lamb and chicken and were assured by Powell that "we will move aggressively forward to deal with the Middle East peace process and with terrorism."
He reminded his guests, many of them young Americans with a few visitors from Jordan, Indonesia, Morocco and other Arab countries among them, that President Bush was the first president to promise establishment of a Palestinian state.
"In the United States you will find no better friend and partner," Powell said.
Offering a brief civics lesson, Powell told them "you saw American democracy in action" on Election Day. And, he said, "we air our differences openly."
Powell also said "America is open to all," but because of security concerns "we have caused some inconvenience for travelers."
It was the third consecutive year Powell marked the religious event with an Iftar dinner at the State Department, and each year a prayer room was made available, department protocol officials said.