- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 17, 2010

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. David Paterson, who last week suggested a proposed mosque near ground zero might want to relocate elsewhere, will meet soon with the project’s developers, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Mr. Paterson’s office declined to say what the meeting would be about, but Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, told the Associated Press that the governor wants to discuss possible alternate locations for the Park51 Islamic cultural center and mosque. Mr. King said he spoke with the governor Tuesday.

Representatives of the project said no meeting has been scheduled yet.

Mr. Paterson last week offered his help and the possibility that state land could be provided as an alternate site for the center. The project has ignited nationwide debate over freedom of religion and anger over the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The planned $100 million center would be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site, where nearly 2,800 people died when Islamic terrorists flew jets into the center’s twin towers. The project is headed by Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, a Muslim cleric who has worked to improve relations between Islam and the West.

** FILE ** Traffic passes a building in lower Manhattan that once housed a Burlington Coat Factory store. A 13-story mosque and Islamic cultural center is planned to replace the building, which was damaged by airplane debris on Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
** FILE ** Traffic passes a building in lower Manhattan that once ... more >

Morgan Hook, a Paterson spokesman, said talks were under way between the governor’s office and representatives of Park51 to set up a meeting between Mr. Paterson and the project’s leaders.

“We are working with the developers on a staff level, but there have not been any formal discussions between the governor and imam or developer,” Mr. Hook said. “We expect to have a meeting scheduled in the near future.”

Mosque spokesman Oz Sultan released a statement Tuesday saying he did not believe a meeting had been scheduled yet.

“We appreciate the governor’s interest as we continue to have conversations with many officials,” Mr. Sultan said.

The Washington Post first reported the talks were under way.

Mr. King, the ranking minority member of the Homeland Security Committee, said he had spoken with Mr. Paterson on Tuesday and that Mr. Paterson expected the meeting to take place within days.

“He said he is meeting in the next day or so with the developers and the leaders of the mosque to discuss his proposal to move it to state land. My understanding was the imam is going to be there,” Mr. King told the AP.

Imam Rauf was scheduled to leave this week on a two-week trip to the Middle East as part of a religious outreach effort by the State Department.

Beth Fouhy reported from New York.