WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Iran and Syria on Wednesday of instigating Muslim protests triggered by drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, and President Bush pleaded for an end to violence.
"I have no doubt that Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and have used this for their own purposes," Rice said. "The world ought to call them on it."
She did not offer specifics during a brief State Department news conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The United States accuses Iran and Syria of funding terrorism and has tried to unite world opinion against both Middle Eastern nations.
"I call upon the governments around the world to stop the violence, to be respectful, to protect property, protect the lives of innocent diplomats who are serving their countries overseas," Bush had said earlier at the White House.
"We reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in a free press," he said.
"I call upon the governments around the world to stop the violence, to be respectful, to protect property, protect the lives of innocent diplomats who are serving their countries overseas," the president said.
Bush also said that Americans believe in a free press, and added, "With freedom comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others."
Bush made his comments after a meeting in the Oval Office with King Abdullah II of Jordan.
"With all respect to press freedoms, obviously anything that villifies the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, or attacks Muslim sensibilities, I believe, needs to be condemned," the king said.
He went on to say that those who want to protest "should do it thoughfully, articulately, express their views peacefully."
"When we see protests, when we see destruction, when we see violence, especially if it ends up taking the lives of innocent people, is completely unacceptable," he added. "Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is a religion of peace, tolerance, moderation."
Police in Afghanistan shot four protesters to death earlier Wednesday to stop hundreds from marching on a U.S. military base as Islamic organizations, too, called for an end to deadly rioting across the Muslim world.
The United States and other nations are looking at the question of whether extremist groups may behind the protests because of cartoons that have been printed in numerous European papers.
Eleven people have been killed in the last week as thousands conducted street protests in a dozen Afghan cities and towns to march against the cartoons, which have been reprinted in various European media after first appearing in a Danish newspaper in September.
The drawings — including one depicting the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb — have stirred a furor among Muslins. Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry.
The caricatures were first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Culture editor Flemming Rose said in a cable news interview on Wednesday he came up with the idea after several local cases of self-censorship involving people fearing reprisals from Muslims.
Bush said the reaction to the publication of the drawings was a subject "that requires a lot of discussion and a lot of sensitive thought."
"I first want to make it very clear to people around the world that our's is a nation that believes in tolerance and understanding," Bush said. "In America, we welcome people of all faiths. One of the great attributes of our country is that you're free to worship however you choose in the United States of America.
"Secondly, we believe in a free press," Bush added. "And also recognize that with freedom comes responsibilities. With freedom comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others."