NEW YORK (AP) — The Dalai Lama said Sunday that the U.S.-led war in Iraq could perhaps have been avoided through negotiations with Saddam Hussein.

Responding to a question about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhists said that Hussein was "not such a foolish person. War with America. He can't win."

The Dalai Lama has criticized the Iraq war effort in the past. He did not offer any solutions to continued violence there.

"Now, I don't know," he said.

The Nobel Prize winner appeared at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine after wrapping up four days of teaching at Radio City Music Hall.

Nearly 2,000 people, including actors Richard Gere and Naomi Watts, filled the cavernous Gothic cathedral to hear the man whom followers believe to be the reincarnation of his predecessors.

Billed as a panel discussion on "Kinship and its Meaning in Our World Today," the event was more of a free-floating meditation on ecumenicism.

As is his usual practice, the 74-year-old Dalai Lama smiled broadly and chuckled at his own remarks.

"Whether you like it or not, there are different traditions," he said, laughing. "And no one can change that."

Recalling a 2001 visit to the Roman Catholic shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, the Dalai Lama said the statue of the Virgin Mary appeared to smile at him.

"Maybe, my eyes, something wrong," he said.

But he said that although he is a Buddhist, "Mary I always revere as a symbol of compassion."

The Dalai Lama dropped names of Christian leaders including Mother Teresa, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Trappist monk Thomas Merton.

"His boot — very big, like Army boot," he said of Merton, who died in 1968. "His hat — very shiny."

Joining the Dalai Lama on the panel were two Muslims, American Eboo Patel, a member of the Obama administration's Faith Advisory Council, and Sakena Yacoobi, executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning, which provides education and health care in Afghanistan.

Patel, the founder of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, said, "I think one of the great questions of our era is this: Is religion going to be a barrier of division? Is it going to be a bomb of destruction? Or is it going to be a bridge of cooperation?"

He called the Dalai Lama "perhaps the greatest world leader, the most beloved global citizen, shining a light on the issue of religion as a bridge of cooperation."

The Tibetan leader has a new book, "Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World's Religions Can Come Together," released this month in the U.S. by Doubleday Religion.