Bush to take part in Ramadan dinner

WASHINGTON - United States President George W. Bush sits down with ambassadors from Muslim countries today for a traditional Ramadan dinner as he courts Islamic support for the US-led war on terrorism.

The White House called it an unprecedented gesture by the US president, who emphasises that the war in Afghanistan is not a war on Muslims.

"We're a nation of many faiths," Bush told reporters before the dinner, which is part of a broader public relations campaign by the administration aimed at blunting criticism of the airstrikes, which Washington refused to halt during the Muslim holy month.

"Out of this war had come a recognition of the importance of building relations with Muslim states, with Muslim countries," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "This is part of that."

The White House expects 50 ambassadors from Muslim nations to gather in the East Room on Monday evening (Washington time) for prayers. Bush will join them afterward to break the sunrise to sundown fast with the customary Iftar meal in the State Dining Room.

Fleischer said it would be the first Ramadan dinner held at the White House and attended by a US president. The Clinton administration had organised similar events at the State Department.

"The president, in his remarks, is going to talk about the importance of faith and the importance of tradition," Fleischer said. "He will note how important the month of Ramadan is and the importance of respect for all."

The Ramadan dinner follows criticism that the Bush administration has not been paying enough attention to the public relations side of its war on terrorism and the Taleban.

- REUTERS

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