February 12, 2006

Cartoon fury could spin out of control: Rice

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Sunday that anger sparked by cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad could spin out of control and urged governments, especially Iran and Syria, to "act responsibly."

"If governments do not act responsibly, we could face a sense of outrage that spins out of control and particularly if people continue to incite it," she said on the ABC television program "This Week."

"It is well known that Iran and Syria bring protesters into the streets when they wish, to make a point," she said.

Rice, in a separate interview on CBS' "Face the Nation," said Washington had lodged a complaint in which they told Damascus, "these are incited riots, and they need to be controlled."

"The Syrian and Iranian governments have very good control of these things," Rice added.

She mentioned a plan in Iran to retaliate for the cartoons, first published in Denmark in September, by launching a contest to caricature the Holocaust in which six million Jews were killed.

"I would like to have heard from the Iranian government ... not a threat to start publishing Holocaust cartoons, but rather to say that people should not resort to violence," she said.

"If that's not incitement, I don't know what is," Rice added on the CBS program.

She said she personally found the cartoons offensive. At issue, she added, were issues of both press freedom and press responsibility.

At least 11 people have been killed during protests in the Middle East, Asia and Africa over the cartoons, which many Muslims see as blasphemous and an attack on Islam.

On Wednesday, Rice, at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Israel, had singled out Iran and Syria for what she said was stirring Muslim anger against the West over the issue. Both countries are at odds with the West over a range of problems, including the path to Middle East peace.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had said in response he was unaware of any evidence that Iran and Syria were manipulating protesters.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on CNN's "Late Edition" that Rice "has a point" in saying that Syrian and Iran were inciting violence.

"It's obvious to me that certain countries take advantage of this situation to distract attention from their own problems with the international community, including Syria and Iran," he said.

Denmark has withdrawn its diplomatic staff from Indonesia and Iran because of threats to their security, and from Syria, citing inadequate security provision by the Syrian authorities.