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U.S. sending Ground Zero imam to Mideast

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. State Department is sending the imam at the center of plans for a mosque near Ground Zero on an outreach trip to the Middle East.

Feisal Abdul Rauf will visit Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to promote religious tolerance and discuss Muslim life in America. Rauf is behind the controversial plan to build a Muslim center near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

According to CNN, U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, and Peter King (R-N.Y.), ranking member of the Homeland Security committee, said taxpayers should not have to fund the trip, which they called “unacceptable.”

"The State Department’s selection of Feisal Abdul Rauf to represent the American people through this program further calls into question the administration’s policy and funding priorities," they reportedly said in a statement.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it is Rauf’s third such trip, and that it was planned before the imam developed plans for the mosque.

“We have a long-term relationship with him," Crowley told reporters Tuesday at the State Department. “His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well known, and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States."

Crowley said the trip is one of about 1,200 similar programs. He said Rauf would not be allowed to raise funds on the trip.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs expressed its displeasure with the trip in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The organization said the Imam has made divisive statements regarding U.S. foreign policy, and his presence in the Middle East would spread the controversy surrounding the mosque to that region.

"In a 60 minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory [to 9/11], Imam Feisal replied, ‘Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying the the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.’" the letter stated. "If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered."

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