President Bush today condemned Iran's death decree against British novelist Salman Rushdie as "deeply offensive to the norm of civilized behavior" and warned that Tehran would be held accountable for any actions against American interests.
The President's warning came hours after Iran recalled its ambassadors from Common Market countries today, a day after the 12 European countries decided to withdraw their envoys from Tehran to protest the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's order that Rushdie be killed. Rushdie is the author of "The Satanic Verses," a novel that many Muslims consider blasphemous.
Bush said he strongly supports the decision of European governments to recall their ambassadors.
News Conference Called
The President made his comments at a hurriedly called news conference at the White House on the eve of his departure for a five-day Asian trip.
Until today, Bush had been silent on the worldwide controversy over the ayatollah's death threat against Rushdie, an Indian-born British citizen who now is hiding under police protection.
Many Muslims say Rushdie's book portrays the prophet Mohammed's wives as prostitutes and suggests that he--rather than God--wrote the Koran, Islam's holy book.
Bush said that "however offensive that book may be, inciting murder and offering rewards for its perpetration are deeply offensive to the norm of civilized behavior. . . .
"In the light of Iran's incitement, should any action be taken against American interests, the government of Iran can expect to be held accountable," the President added.
Asked if he hoped European nations impose economic sanctions against Iran, as the United States did years ago, "They will be discussing that, I'm sure, but I don't know where we go from there."
Earlier today, Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani said the Europeans' decision to withdraw their diplomats because of Iranian death threats against author Rushdie was a big mistake.
The decision Monday proved that Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses" was indeed a Western plot against Islam, the Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Rafsanjani as telling Parliament.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Iranian diplomats would be withdrawn from the Common Market for consultations in response.
In New York, it was announced today that some of America's best-known writers will read excerpts from "The Satanic Verses" Wednesday at a public demonstration of their solidarity with Rushdie.
The noon reading was organized by the Freedom-to-Write Program of PEN American Center, which represents 2,200 novelists, poets, playwrights, essayists and editors. Among those who will take part in the Lower Manhattan reading at the Columns auditorium are Susan Sontag, president of the PEN center, Norman Mailer, E. L. Doctorow, Joan Didion, Gay Talese, Robert Stone, Larry McMurtry and Edward Said, a Palestinian Christian.