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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, under fire for saying a Muslim should not be president, said on Monday he “absolutely” stood by his comments but would be open to a moderate Muslim candidate who denounced radical Islamists.

Carson, who is one of the top-polling Republican candidates, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Saying he thought a president’s faith should be “consistent with the Constitution,” Carson, a Christian, said he did not believe Muslims met that bar.

Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Nihad Awad has called on Carson to quit the presidential race “because he is unfit to lead, because his views are inconsistent with the United States Constitution.”

Carson’s comments have also been criticized by some of his Republican rivals for president, who note that the Constitution makes clear there should be no religious test for office.

Asked on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” on Monday if he stood by his Muslim comments, Carson replied: “Absolutely.”

“You know what we have to do is we have to recognize this is America and we have a Constitution and we do not put people at the leadership of our country whose faith might interfere with carrying out the duties of the Constitution,” the retired neurosurgeon was quoted as saying in excerpts from the interview airing on Monday night.

But he added he would be open to the idea of a moderate Muslim who denounced radical Islamists as a candidate for president.

When asked if he had meant to say “radical Islamists” in his “Meet the Press” interview, Carson said: “It was implied in the comment because I prefaced that by saying I don’t care what religion or faith someone belongs to, if they’re willing to subjugate to the American way and to our Constitution then I have no problem with it.”

For more on the 2016 presidential race, see the Reuters blog, “Tales from the Trail” (http://blogs.reuters.com/talesfromthetrail/).

(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Eric Beech)

Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the Heritage Action for America presidential candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina,  September 18, 2015.   REUTERS/Chris Keane

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