Lieberman says he is open to meeting Farrakhan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Joseph Lieberman said Tuesday he was willing to meet Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who has been criticized for anti-Semitic remarks and has questioned the Democratic vice presidential nominee's loyalty.
Lieberman, the first Jewish politician to run on a major U.S. political ticket, told American Urban Radio Networks in an interview he respected Farrakhan and was open to meeting with him to promote reconciliation in the United States.
The two-term U.S. senator from Connecticut came under fire from Farrakhan in August, when the Los Angeles Times reported the controversial black leader had questioned whether Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, might be more loyal to Israel to the United States.
Asked if he was willing to meet Farrakhan, Lieberman told the radio network: "I am very open to that."
"Minister Farrakhan has said a few things, including earlier in the campaign, that I thought were just not informed but, you know, I have respect for him and I have respect for the Muslim community generally," Lieberman said.
"I'd be open to sitting and talking to Minister Farrakhan. It hasn't sort of come together yet but I look forward to it," he added. "This is a time to try to knit the country together more and to make us, as (Vice President) Al Gore always says, the more perfect union that our founders dreamed of."
Lieberman said he would like to meet before the "Million Family March" Farrakhan is organizing in Washington on Oct. 16, the fifth anniversary of the Million Man March aimed at empowering black men.
Farrakhan has often been criticized for his strident rhetoric, which includes calling whites "devils," referring to Jewish, Arab and Asian businessmen in black communities as "bloodsuckers" and denouncing the pope as "the anti-Christ."
Lieberman said he admired Farrakhan for his efforts to register voters ahead of the Nov. 7 election, which pits him and Gore against Republican presidential nominee Texas Gov. George W. Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney.
Asked if he would like to meet before the "Million Family March," Lieberman said: "I'd like to do that. I think that's a great idea.
"I look at anything that anybody does to get people to register and to vote (as) really at the heart of what the democracy is about," he added. "So I admire what Minister Farrakhan is doing there."
He also said he was not bothered by any criticism he gets for such a meeting, saying his wife Hadassah often jokes about his stubbornness when he decides to do something.
"She says ... Joe listens but he gets stubborn when he decides he wants to do something, he does it," Lieberman said. "That's the way I feel about this. By my nature I'm an optimist and I'm a bridge builder and that's what this is all about."
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