Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, going where few other leaders dare to tread, has linked the September 11 suicide attacks to the perceived arrogance and selfishness of the United States and the West.
Chretien is the first head of a western major nation to suggest that the suicide hijackers might have been motivated by what he describes as the misguided policies of a rich and powerful West that did not understand the need for restraint.
The veteran prime minister, who has been in power for nine years, told the CBC in an interview aired late on Wednesday that there was "a lot of resentment" about the way in which powerful nations treated the increasing number of poor and dispossessed people in the world.
"You know, you cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for others. That is what the Western world - not only the Americans, the Western world - has to realize. Because they (the have-nots) are human beings too. There are long-term consequences if you don't look hard at the reality in 10 or 20 (or) 30 years from now," he said.
Chretien continued: "And I do think the Western world is getting too rich in relation to the poor world and necessarily, you know, we're looked upon as being arrogant, self-satisfied greedy and with no limits. And Sept. 11 is an occasion for me to realize it even more."
A total of 3,025 people - including 23 Canadians - died in the Sept. 11 attacks. The official count does not include the hijackers.
Chretien comes from the moderate left of Canada's ruling Liberal Party, which has sometimes looked upon US Republican administrations with suspicion.
Canadian Transport Minister David Collenette went further in an interview with the CBC that was shown in the same Sept. 11 package as the prime minister's. He likened some leading players in the United States to bullies on an ice hockey rink.
Chretien's relations with US President George W. Bush have always been cool and this criticism of Washington's increasingly unilateral foreign policy is unlikely to win him fresh friends in the White House.
Chretien's office on Thursday denied media reports he felt Washington was responsible for the attacks, saying the prime minister was instead focusing on the increasing divide between rich and poor "which has been clearly used by fanatics to fan resentment toward the developed world.
"It is a gross misconstruction of his remarks to suggest that he was blaming the United States for the attacks," the office said in a statement.
This did little to assuage the anger of the right-wing Canadian Alliance party, which is generally more favorably inclined toward the United States.
"These comments should be apologized for. They're completely out of context and this is just the very worst timing," deputy Alliance leader Grant Hill told Reuters.
"There is no excuse for terrorism. There is no excuse for innocent lives being lost and anyone who says there is an excuse for that is wrong...it's not clever at all, it's an insult to our neighbors."
The local CBC radio station in Ottawa was flooded with calls on Thursday morning from listeners backing Chretien.
Bush met Chretien last week amid a concerted US effort to persuade its allies of the need to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Chretien stressed instead the need to work through the United Nations to build a coalition.
Chretien's reflective comments were highly unusual for a man known as a down-to-earth politician with little time for the deeper philosophy of governance.
The one skill the West and the United States seemed to lack was that of knowing when to exercise some restraint, he said.
"It's always the problem when you read history - (no one) knows when to stop. There's a moment, you know, when you have to stop," he told the CBC, saying he had made this point to a group of Wall Street executives unhappy that Canada had full diplomatic relations with arch US foe Cuba.
"And I said that day...'When you're (as) powerful (as) you are, you guys, it's the time to be nice'."
Collenette himself showed little signs of restraint, telling the CBC that the collapse of the Soviet Union had removed an important check on US foreign policy.
"There will be people in the United States sort of emboldened by their new source of unfettered power to - in an (ice) hockey term - get their elbows up," he said.
Foreign policy has never been high on Chretien's agenda, with the notable exception of Africa. At this year's summit of the Group of Eight most powerful nations, Chretien - as host - insisted his fellow leaders pay particular attention to a plan designed to help combat endemic poverty in Africa.
"I think the western world is a bit too selfish and that there is a lot of resentment. I felt it when I dealt with the African file for the G8 summit. You know, the poor get relatively poorer all the time and the rich are getting richer all the time," he said.
(China Daily September 13, 2002)