AP 4 Sep 94 7:24 EDT V0250 1994. The Associated Press

ROME (AP) -- Capping an unprecedented campaign of attacks over the U.N. population conference that opens Monday in Cairo, Pope John Paul II has sounded one last alarm about the "dangerous short-cut" of concentrating all efforts on reducing birth rates.

The pope's televised speech Sunday, to a small crowd at his summer palace in Castel Gandolfo, followed several months of a diplomatic and religious crusade that led to the Vatican's allying itself with Muslim fundamentalist states like Iran and Libya.

The Vatican fears the conference will end up endorsing abortion as a way to curb population growth. It is also worried the conference's final document will voice support for contraceptives for unmarried teenagers and otherwise threaten what it sees as the only acceptable form of families, those headed by a married couple.

While John Paul's spokesman last week launched a verbal salvo against U.S. Vice President Al Gore over the Clinton's administration's insistence that women have access to safe abortion if necessary, the pope on Sunday took a kinder tone, offering his "cordial esteem" for the United Nations and saluting "with deference" the delegations.

"I salute the Cairo conference as a historic occasion to orient international politics and economy toward the attainment of such an urgent worldwide objective," the pope said, defining the meeting's supreme goal as that of closing up the "scandalous" gap between rich and poor nations.

The Vatican insists population problems can be alleviated in great measure by better distribution of resources, especially by developed nations in regards to poor ones. "In the moment in which one moves courageously in that direction, it is necessary to resist the temptation to take a dangerous shortcut, the pointing of every effort toward the reduction, obtained in any which way, of the birth rate," the pope said.

"A program of demographic regulation can be considered reasonable, but only under precise ethical conditions, and while respecting those fundamental values and rights that politics can never subvert," John Paul declared.

In this and previous speeches about the Cairo conference, the pontiff has said the "right to be born" supersedes any other human right.

The Catholic church permits married couples to limit and space births by one way only, "natural family planning," which is based on abstaining from sex during a woman's fertile periods.

However, large numbers of Catholics, especially in Western nations, defy the teaching and use contraception. Abortion is condemned by the Church.