WASHINGTON (AP)--To prevent a ``theological iron curtain'' between Islamic countries and the rest of the world, the United States should reach out to Muslim moderates with policies to alleviate poverty and improve human rights, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said Monday.

Lieberman, a potential contender for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, said Muslim fanatics are trying to erect a ``Berlin Wall built with bricks made from poverty and tyranny, cemented by the mortar of hatred and violence.''

``We must act now, proactively and aggressively, to help the millions of moderate Muslims in the world who are being besieged by isolation and intolerance,'' Lieberman said in a speech on terrorism at Georgetown University. ``Because if the curtain should someday fall, it would be a great and grave danger to our own security and would bring awful repression to the hundreds of millions of Muslims of the world trapped behind it.''

Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, said the United States has looked too often the other way as Islamic countries denied their citizens basic rights and economic opportunities. That embittered some Muslims and obscured the U.S. record of protecting Muslims in places such as Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo, he said.

Lieberman did not offer specific examples but cited a recent report by the democracy advocates Freedom House that said nations of the Islamic world have grown increasingly repressive over the past two decades.

``We can and must demonstrate to ordinary people throughout the Islamic world that the United States will take risks to support their freedom, aspirations and quality of life,'' he said.

The United States should withhold economic and political support for oppressive regimes and speak out strongly for improved women's rights, which it has done too little of for fear of destabilizing some governments, he said.

Women's rights vary greatly among Muslim nations, from highly restrictive Saudi Arabia, where it's illegal for women to drive; to Turkey, where girls and women live under strict secular laws, which separate religion from government, and can freely move, attend school and work.

Among other suggestions, Lieberman said Islamic countries should be encouraged to embrace more open economic policies, especially loosened trade restrictions that could help boost exports. He urged vigorous diplomatic efforts and more cultural exchanges to improve understanding of the United States and counter anti-Western propaganda.

Lieberman's lecture was part of a series that has featured former President Clinton, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, CIA Director George Tenet and the cast of the NBC television show ``West Wing.''

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