ROSEMONT, Illinois - Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami says current United States foreign policy triggers terrorism and violence in the world, but American Muslims can play a key role in promoting peace and security.

In his first public appearances during a nearly two-week visit to the U.S., Khatami spoke twice Saturday in the Chicago area. He is the most senior Iranian official to visit the U.S. since Islamic fundamentalists seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 during the Carter administration 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 during a 40-minute keynote address Saturday at the Islamic Society of North America's 43rd annual convention.

Speaking through a translator, Khatami told tens of thousands of Muslims gathered 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 attacks of September 11.

"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, referring to the attacks.

He said Muslims must forge a new identity that embraces the modern world, tolerates other religions and works toward peace.

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 U.S. on Thursday after the State Department issued the visa on Tuesday and put no travel restrictions on Khatami.

He was invited to the U.S. by the UN's Alliance of Civilizations, of which he is a founding member. The alliance's high-level group, which will meet Tuesday and Wednesday, strives to foster cross-cultural understanding between Western and Islamic states.

Earlier on Saturday, Khatami spoke to several hundred leaders of the Islamic community at Bait ul Ilm, an Islamic center in suburban Streamwood.

Speaking in Farsi, Khatami focused on Islamic religious themes in his remarks at the Islamic center.

"There is a great opportunity of dialogue and cooperation among people of faith," Khatami said through a translator. "But I mean people of true faith. I don't mean extremists and terrorists."

Khatami's visit to the Islamic Society on Saturday drew criticism from the Chicago Jewish Federation.

That group issued a statement that condemns Khatami, saying he's "behaved as an enemy of America and our most cherished values."

The Islamic Society's newly elected president, Ingrid Mattson, said on Friday that 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 has drawn 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.

The meeting also is focusing on voter registration, with more than 50 volunteers signing up new voters.