Clinton tries to defuse Muslim ire over his meeting with Rushdie

December 01, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- While defending his decision to meet last week with Salman Rushdie, President Clinton insisted yesterday that he "meant no disrespect" to the Muslim world and emphasized that he had spent only "a couple of minutes" with the author at the White House.

He acknowledged yesterday that some of his advisers had recommended against his meeting Mr. Rushdie, whose book "The Satanic Verses" has been condemned as blasphemous throughout the Islamic world.

After its publication in 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a death warrant against Mr. Rushdie, which the Iranian religious leadership has refused to lift since the ayatollah's death.

In an angry response to the White House meeting, the head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi, last week labeled Mr. Clinton "the most hated man before all the Muslims of the world."

Even secular Muslims in Middle Eastern countries, including leaders of the Wafd Party in Egypt, have condemned the meeting, describing it as an insult to Islam at a time when Middle East peace efforts have reached a crucial juncture.

In describing his conversation with Mr. Rushdie for the first time yesterday, Mr. Clinton said he had met with the author to "reaffirm our commitment to protecting the physical well-being and the right to speak of those with whom we may intensely disagree."

"I hope that I will not be misunderstood," the president said.

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