U.S. says Iran, Syria incite cartoon protests


(Gold9472: I must be slipping. I completely forgot that Iran and Syria have formed a "Common Front" against the United States. If we attack one, we fight both.)

By Sue Pleming Wed Feb 8, 4:44 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused U.S. adversaries Iran and Syria on Wednesday of inciting Muslim anger against the West over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that have sparked deadly protests.

President George W. Bush said governments should stop the violence that has erupted over the cartoons, including attacks on Western embassies in parts of the Muslim world. At least 10 people have been killed in protests in Afghanistan alone.

"Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes and the world ought to call them on it," Rice said at a joint news conference with Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

She said nothing justified the violence that had resulted from the cartoons and appealed to governments to urge calm.

"There are governments that have used this opportunity to incite violence," she added, referring to Syria and Iran.

Rice took a more pointed jab at Iran and said it had "not even hidden its hand in this."

The United States is on a collision course with Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program and was instrumental in getting the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency last Saturday to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council.

Rice said Iran had "no alternative course" than to accept the demands of the international community over its nuclear programs. Iran denies it is building a nuclear weapon and says its program is for civilian energy use only.

Violence flared around the Muslim world after caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad were first published in a Danish daily, and then reprinted across Europe. Many Muslims consider any portrayal of their Prophet as blasphemous.

Speaking to reporters later, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said protests over the cartoons in Iran and Syria were apparently sanctioned by their governments.

But the United States did not believe protests in other parts of the Muslim world were due to Iran and Syria inciting violence, McCormack added.

An Iranian newspaper, in retaliation for the European cartoons, has launched a competition calling for cartoons about the Holocaust, a move the State Department called "outrageous" and that McCormack said was influenced by Iranian authorities.

Last year Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and described the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War Two, as a myth.

Syria is under intense world scrutiny for its alleged role in last year's killing of Lebanese ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri and European officials have said stoking Muslim fury could be a way to warn the West of the risks of destabilizing the Syrian government.

The White House has blamed Syria for not protecting the Danish and Norwegian embassies that were torched by protesters angered by the cartoons.

Bush discussed the Muslim reaction to cartoons with Jordan's King Abdullah on Wednesday and said it was "a topic that requires a lot of discussion and a lot of sensitive thought."

"We believe in a free press, and also recognize that with freedom comes responsibilities. With freedom comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others," Bush said.

But, he added: "We reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in a free press."

Abdullah condemned the cartoons, but said protests should be peaceful.

"With all respect to press freedoms, obviously anything that vilifies the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, or attacks Muslim sensibilities I believe needs to be condemned," Abdullah said.