SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (AP) -- Religion and spiritual teachings can help people transcend political differences and should never be used to rationalize terrorism, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said.
The reformist president and Muslim cleric addressed the United Nations on Friday, then spoke at Seton Hall University, a Roman Catholic school that has participated in a U.N. peace program Khatami started called "Dialogue Among Civilizations."
"Unjustifiable human error has often turned religion into an instrument aimed at justifying inhuman behavior and restricting the scope of human interaction," Khatami said at the university. "But this surely contradicts the purpose of God and divine messenger."
Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, echoed the Iranian leader's call for more interfaith dialogue. He quoted Pope John Paul II and the Quran to make the point.
"The bishops have striven to help our Catholic people realize that we are all brothers and sisters in God's one human family," McCarrick said.
Khatami, whose predominantly Shiite Muslim nation was once seen as the chief exporter of Islamic radicalism, condemned terrorists who use the religion to promote their cause.
He did not directly refer to the Taliban, but Iran believes the Taliban have warped Islam, and Iran has helped arm the opposition northern alliance in Afghanistan.
"We see how an obscurantist misrepresentation of Islam terrorizes the world and whoever does not share in its fanatical illusions, subjecting innocent women, men and children to blind wrath misnamed a holy war or jihad," he said.
Khatami made similar remarks in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
He declared the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terror attacks "a cult of fanatics" disconnected from the larger world and said they had carried out "an appalling crime."
However, he also urged caution in the response.
"A misplaced sense of might could lead to failure to hear the calls of people of goodwill or the cries of children, women and the elderly in Afghanistan," Khatami said.
He said he had urged U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to create an agenda to combat terrorism and unify international political will.
John Negroponte, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, also urged dialogue.
"The greater danger confronting us in the world today is not that we speak in different languages, but that we don't always listen to any language," Negroponte said.
At Seton Hall, Khatami also referred to the plight of Palestinians in the Israeli territories, but didn't mention the Jewish state by name. He said the teachings of Moses were incompatible with the "violent, racist misinterpretation that has driven a nation out of its homeland."