In his first public appearances during a nearly two-week visit to the United States, Khatami spoke twice in the Chicago area. He is the most senior Iranian official to visit the United States since Islamic fundamentalists seized the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held Americans hostage for 444 days.
"As America claims to be fighting terrorism, it implements policies that cause the intensification of terrorism and institutionalized violence," Khatami said at the Islamic Society of North America's 43rd annual convention.
Kahatami speaks, Saturday (Photo: AP)
Speaking through a translator, Khatami told tens of thousands of Muslims at the meeting that there is a chronic misunderstanding between the West and the East that goes back to the Crusades and continues today.
He said American Muslims "through active participation in the social arena" can form lobbying groups and form a consensus with other Americans.
"Public opinion can be rescued from the grips of ignorance and blunder and the domination of arrogant, warmongering and violence-triggering policies will end," he said.
Khatami called the United States "a great nation" and said that as president of Iran he was among the first world leaders to condemn the September 11 attacks as a barbaric act.
"I knew this inferno would only intensify extremism and one-sidedness and would have no outcome except to retard justice and intellect and sacrifice righteousness and humanity," he said.
He said Muslims must forge a new identity that embraces the modern world, tolerates other religions and works toward peace.
'Great opportunity of dialogue'
Khatami will make stops at universities, speak at the United Nations and attend two Islamic conferences during his trip, an official close to him said Friday. Khatami arrived in the United States on Thursday, two days after the State Department issued him a visa. There are no restrictions on his travel.
He was invited to the United States by the UN-sponsored Alliance of Civilizations, of which he is a founding member. The group strives to foster cross-cultural understanding between Western and Islamic states.
Earlier Saturday, Khatami spoke to several hundred leaders of the Islamic community at Bait ul Ilm, an Islamic center in suburban Streamwood.
"There is a great opportunity of dialogue and cooperation among people of faith," he said in Farsi, speaking through a translator. "But I mean people of true faith. I don't mean extremists and terrorists."
Khatami's visit to the Islamic Society drew criticism from the Chicago Jewish Federation, which issued a statement that condemned the former leader, saying he has "behaved as an enemy of America and our most cherished values."
Ingrid Mattson, the Islamic Society's newly elected president, said Friday the invitation to Khatami was a "natural extension of our role as proponents of dialogue and learning." She said the group hopes to show Khatami "how the American Muslim community has dealt with issues of religious freedom and tolerance and perhaps he can carry some of that message back."
The Islamic Society's four-day meeting is expected to draw more than 30,000 Muslims from Canada and around the United States for mostly nonpolitical sessions on subjects including retirement planning, Internet marketing, home schooling and dating.