22nd Oct 2020

US backs Denmark in cartoon row

The US has backed its Iraq war ally Denmark over the Mohammed cartoons row, while saying the EU and US expect Palestinian militants Hamas to renounce violence.

"We went [to Europe] frankly to express solidarity with Denmark, which does not deserve the threats, the attempts at intimidation, the boycotts and the pressure it's been under," US Europe minister Daniel Fried said in Brussels on Tuesday (14 February).

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He stated Copenhagen was right not to apologise on behalf of newspaper Jyllands-Posten, whose cartoon publications last September led to attacks on Danish embassies in the Middle East and Asia in the past few weeks.

Fallout from the publication continues, with two dead in Pakistan on Tuesday after 1,000 protestors assaulted western businesses in Islamabad's diplomatic district.

"Governments don't tell or shouldn't tell newspapers what to publish. In free societies newspapers work this out for themselves," Mr Fried indicated.

The US envoy added that the Syrian and Iranian governments orchestrated earlier anti-cartoon demonstrations in their own capitals in a "cynical" anti-western agenda.

He also called the Jyllands-Posten cartoons "offensive," while referring to an Iranian project to publish holocaust cartoons as "disgraceful."

Transatlantic values

Mr Fried said Washington will step up its support for pro-reform movements in the Islamic world in response to the cartoon row.

"We do believe our weight should be on the side of those in the region who strive for reform," he said.

The diplomat urged other international leaders to speak up for values such as "tolerance, respect, sensitivity, freedom, including freedom of expression and justice."

"Islamists and dictators in the Middle East are arguing that in fact only dictatorships can provide the proper respect for Islam," he stated.

"This is wrong. Faiths based on intolerance of all but one faith or all but one ideolgy are not faiths that are going to help the world deal with all its problems in the 21st century."

Mr Fried indicated that the US has dealt with ethnic and religious pluralism "less than perfectly" in its own history.

But he said he was proud of the "small attempts" made by Washington to embrace US muslims in the post 9/11 climate by holding Ramadan dinners in the White House.

"I don't believe that muslim prayers were ever heard in the White House before that," he remarked.

Ball in Hamas' court

Mr Fried also issued an EU-US challenge to Palestine militant group Hamas, saying the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict lies in its hands.

Hamas won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories last month but continues to make belligerent statements against Israel, giving the west a headache on whether to cut aid funds to the region.

"We, the US, Europe, are thinking through how we should deal with the future government of the Palestinian Authority," he said.

"Hamas must choose what it wants for the Palestinian people, whether it wants to lead them into more dysfunctionality, bloodshed, and a future of no hope, or whether it wants to lead them to a state with Isreal living in peace and security side by side."

He declined to comment on a New York Times story, out Monday night, that Washington and Tel Aviv have hatched a plot to destabilise the new Hamas regime by blocking international aid.

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