Iranian leader to launch ‘Dialog among Civilizations’


Two years ago, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, on his first trip to the United Nations, called for a “dialogue among civilizations” to bridge differences that cause war and poverty.

With his return this week, the dialogue began with Khatami declaring Tuesday, “We should listen in earnest to what other cultures offer.” But he warned that “dialogue is not easy.”

Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the round-table discussion by saying the United Nations itself was created “in the belief that dialogue can triumph over discord, that diversity is a universal virtue and that the peoples of the world are far more united by their common fate than they are divided by their separate identities.”

He said that there is indeed one global civilization in which the world’s ideas and beliefs converge.

“It is a civilization that must be defined by its tolerance of dissent, its celebration of cultural diversity, its insistence on fundamental, universal human rights, and its belief in the right of people everywhere to have a say in how they are governed,” Annan said. Khatami on Monday pressed the U.N. General Assembly to back his call for a dialogue, arguing that globalization is widening the gap between rich and poor, and that ethnic or sectarian intolerance is leading to a rising number of conflicts.

The General Assembly has declared 2001 the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations. Khatami has invited more than half a dozen world leaders to help him launch it at a daylong round-table session Tuesday ahead of the U.N. Millennium Summit, which begins Wednesday.

“Successful, productive dialogue helps uproot ignorance and injustice, on which conflicts feed,” said Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of the session’s organizer, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

UNESCO said it is planning a series of events that will highlight how societies benefit from contact with each other and how they risk decline when they become self-contained and isolated.