WASHINGTON – American taxpayers will pay the imam behind plans for a mosque near the Manhattan site of the Sept. 11 attacks $3,000 in fees for a three-nation outreach trip to the Middle East that will cost roughly $16,000, the State Department said Wednesday.
Airfare is included, as well as the standard federal government per diem for expenses and lodging in each of the cities he will visit, spokesman P.J. Crowley said. Those per diem rates range from nearly $400 to nearly $500, according to official documents.
The imam's organization, The Cordoba Initiative, referred questions on the matter to the State Department.
Rauf starts his tour Thursday in Bahrain and ends it in the United Arab Emirates Sept. 2. At each stop he is expected to discuss Muslim life in America and promote religious tolerance. He will not be allowed to raise funds for the mosque on the trip, Crowley said.
"We have had conversations with the imam to make sure he understands that during these kinds of trips, he's not to engage in any personal business," Crowley told reporters. "He understands that completely."
"We value his participation as a religious figure here in the United States who can help people overseas understand the role that religion plays in our society," he said.
Rauf's tour has drawn attention because of his plans to build an Islamic center in lower Manhattan near ground zero. Foes of the project say it is insensitive and disrespectful to the victims of 9/11 and their families. The debate has become politicized ahead of November's midterm congressional elections.
Crowley said this will be Rauf's fourth U.S.-government sponsored trip under a program run by the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs. Earlier, the State Department had said it was his third trip.
Crowley said Rauf had traveled twice to the Middle East in 2007 during the Bush administration and once earlier this year.
On his upcoming trip, Rauf will be in Manama, Bahrain, from Thursday until Monday; Doha, Qatar, from Aug. 24 to Aug. 27 and in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2.
The published maximum per diem rate for U.S. government employees in Manama is $396, in Doha it is $341, and in Abu Dhabi it is $496.