The White House press secretary told members of the press pool aboard Air Force One today that President Obama’s “sincere” apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a Koran-burning incident “is not appropriate to show” to reporters.
Jay Carney spoke with reporters for about 20 minutes as the presidential entourage flew to Florida for a speech on energy at the University of Miami.
Obama’s letter to Karzai that included the apology was “a lengthy, three-page letter on a host of issues, several sentences of which relate to this matter,” according to the travel pool report.
“The president, following up on a telephone conversation … wrote a long letter on a variety of issues related to our bilateral engagement, including reconciliation, including the trilateral talks that we had with Pakistan last week in Islamabad,” Carney said. “He also expressed his apology for the inadvertent burning of religious materials by American personnel in Afghanistan. It is wholly appropriate given the understandable sensitivities to this issue. His primary concern as commander in chief is the safety of American men and women in Afghanistan, of our military and civilian personnel there. It’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
Carney said Karzai did not request the apology letter. Obama spoke with Karzai the day before sending the letter.
“I would note that one of my predecessors, Dana Perino, the press secretary for President George W. Bush, following an incident in which American servicemen apparently shot, did damage to a Koran in 2008,” the press secretary said. “She expressed apologies on behalf of the president. And that’s appropriate for the same reason, because our concern – this president’s concern, as was surely the case with President Bush – is the safety and security of our men and women in uniform as well as our civilians in Afghanistan.
“One of the reasons that it’s appropriate to express our sincere apologies for this incident is the kind of reaction that it could cause that risks putting our men and women in harms way, in further risk than they already are,” Carney said. “So I think that precedent is a useful one to look at.”
(Note: After this post was written, the White House pool reporter issued a correction that Carney said “sincere,” not “severe,” apologies as they first reported. It has been corrected here.)