Video: Outrage at evangelist's plans for Koran burning
A Florida church's threat to burn copies of the Koran to mark the September 11 attacks has been condemned by Hillary Clinton as "disrespectful" and "disgraceful".
The American Secretary of State is the highest ranking US official to criticise the plans by the evangelical Dove World Outreach Centre to destroy the Muslim holy book on its grounds on Saturday.
"I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths, from evangelical Christians to Jewish rabbis, as well as secular US leaders and opinion-makers," she said.
"Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation."
The diplomatic chief's comments came as she hosted an Iftar meal at the State Department to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Earlier, military leaders warned the decision could trigger outrage around the Islamic world. and put the lives of US soldiers at risk.
Gen David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, urged the plans be dropped.
"Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan – and around the world – to inflame public opinion and incite violence," said Gen Petraeus.
"It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community," he said in a statement.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato Secretary General, also expressed concerns about the risk to troops' security and said that "such actions are in strong contradiction with all the values that we stand for and fight for".
In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging that American interrogators at Guantánamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Koran down the lavatory to get inmates to talk.
The controversy comes amid a row in the United States about plans to build an Islamic centre and mosque two blocks from ground zero in New York.
The proposed centre has sparked vociferous opposition among Republican politicians and some family groups for victims of the al-Qaeda attacks.
A recent poll showed that 43 per cent of Americans have a negative attitude towards Muslims, whilst 25 per cent believe that the majority of Muslims living in the US aren't patriotic.
Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders have all denounced the "misinformation and outright bigotry" against U.S. Muslims.
Terry Jones, the pastor at the Dove World Outreach Centre, acknowledged the legitimacy of Gen Petraeus's concerns, but vowed to go ahead with burning.
Mr Jones said in a statement released by his church: "We must send a clear message to the radical element of Islam. We will no longer be controlled and dominated by their fears and threats. It is time for America to return to being America."
The church, which made headlines last year after distributing T-shirts that said "Islam is of the Devil", has a regular congregation of only 50, but its plan has won thousands of followers on Facebook and has been widely reported in Muslim countries.
Mr Jones told The Daily Telegraph that he has received death threats and twice met the FBI to discuss his safety. He said he had purchased some copies of the Koran while others had been sent to him.
"We were not aware of what an impact it would have," he said of the planned action.
"We want to encourage people to burn the Koran to make a statement to honour those murdered on that day," he added, referring to September 11, 2001.
Gen Petraeus commands an international force of more than 140,000 troops trying to suppress the Taliban insurgency.
More than 320 US troops have died in Afghanistan so far this year, exceeding the previous annual record of 304 in 2009.