"Nine years have now passed," said President Barack Obama, addressing families of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001. "In that time, you have shed more tears than we will ever know. And though it must seem some days as though the world has moved on to other things, I say to you today that your loved ones endure in the heart of our nation, now and forever."
The president spoke at the Pentagon this morning, following a moment of silence.
Amid an atmosphere of unease, Obama wants Americans to mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks by recapturing the sense of common purpose felt on that dreadful day. He will participate in a service project later today.
Obama also urged tolerance, especially in light of the highly charged events preceding this anniversary, including the furor over the proposed Islamic center and mosque in lower Manhattan and the Florida pastor who now says he's scrapped his plans to plan Qurans.
"It was not a religion that attacked us that September day -- it was al Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion," said Obama. "And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation."
Obama and Mullen laid a wreath at the Zero Line at the Pentagon Memorial. The line memorializes the moment -- 9:37 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001 -- that American Airlines Flight 77 crashed.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen spoke briefly before the president took the podium. "Today we honor and remember those who fell, surrounded by those who love them," Gates said.
First lady Michelle Obama joined former first lady Laura Bush in Shanksville, Pa., where the fourth plane crashed after passengers rushed the cockpit. Vice President Joe Biden is in New York for the service at Ground Zero.
This year's remembrances take place in an unusually tense environment.
But by late Friday, it appeared the Rev. Terry Jones had backed off his plan to burn the Muslim holy book, following international condemnation. In New York, protests were planned for Saturday by supporters and opponents of the proposed mosque.
Obama alluded in his Saturday morning radio address to the contentious atmosphere, though without specifically addressing either controversy.
"This is a time of difficulty for our country," Obama said. "And it is often in such moments that some try to stoke bitterness -- to divide us based on our differences, to blind us to what we have in common.
"But on this day, we are reminded that at our best, we do not give in to this temptation," Obama said. "We stand with one another. We fight alongside one another. We do not allow ourselves to be defined by fear, but by the hopes we have for our families, for our nation, and for a brighter future."
At a White House news conference Friday, Obama denounced the threatened Quran burning. He said Muslims have the same right as any other religion to build near Ground Zero, and issued a full-throated appeal for religious tolerance, reminding Americans: "We are not at war against Islam."
In the GOP's weekly address, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., echoed Obama's plea for a common purpose. Kyl called for the country to "recapture the unity that allowed us to come together as a nation to confront a determined enemy."
But without mentioning the president by name, Kyl seemed to question the Obama administration's commitment to the war on terror begun by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama recently declared an end to combat missions in Iraq even as he pledged to renew efforts to prosecute the war in Afghanistan and pursue al-Qaida terrorists.
"The fact that none of the subsequent attempts to attack us have succeeded seems to have removed some of the urgency and commitment so necessary to succeed in war," Kyl said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a statement honoring the victims of "that terrible day," said memories of the attacks "remain searingly vivid....We remember the pain of loss, but also the pride in our people and our country," she said.
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