Prime Minister Jean Chrétien says the United States and the West must shoulder some of the responsibility for last year's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington because of their wealth and exercise of power in the world.
In a CBC interview taped in July and aired last night, Mr. Chrétien suggested that the root causes of the Sept. 11 attacks were global poverty and an overbearing American foreign policy.
"It's always the problem when you read history -- everybody doesn't know when to stop. There's a moment when you have to stop, there's a moment when you are very powerful," he said.
Immediately following Sept. 11, Canadian politicians rejected the "root causes" argument, saying the attacks were the work of irrational fanatics that had nothing to do with legitimate grievances.
But Mr. Chrétien told CBC that religious fanatics are using the anger and resentment of the world's poor to fuel their terrorism.
"I do think that the Western world is getting too rich in relations to the poor world," he said.
"And necessarily, we're looked upon as being arrogant, self-satisfied, greedy and with no limits. And the 11th of September is an occasion for me to realize it even more."
The Prime Minister said he was in New York prior to the terrorist attacks and heard complaints from Wall Street capitalists about Canadian economic ties to Cuba and other foreign-policy disagreements.
"I told them: When you are powerful like you are, you guys, it's the time to be nice," he said.
"And it is one of the problems -- you cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation of the others.
"And that is what the Western world -- not only the Americans but the Western world -- has to realize."
Yesterday, Mr. Chrétien attended memorial services in New York City, saying he wanted to show solidarity with mourning Americans.
Suggestions that the United States bears some responsibility for the attacks have been angrily dismissed by American officials.
The CBC interview, part of a documentary that traced the actions of senior government officials that fateful day, revealed that the Prime Minister had essentially authorized U.S. fighter jets to shoot down a Korean airliner over Canada if it diverted from a planned emergency landing in Whitehorse.
While still over Alaska, the pilot of the Korean Airlines 747 had erroneously sent coded signals indicating the airliner had been hijacked. The pilot was ordered to land in Whitehorse, and was met by U.S. jet fighters while still over American territory.
NORAD command in Winnipeg agreed the airliner could enter Canadian airspace accompanied by the U.S. fighters, but insisted the decision to shoot it down must be the Canadian government's.
On the afternoon of Sept. 11, Mr. Chrétien received a phone call and was told the airliner might have to be shot down.
"I said, 'Yes, if you think they are terrorists, you call me again but be ready to shoot them down.' So I authorized it in principle," he said.
"It's kind of scary that . . . [there is]this plane with hundreds of people and you have to call a decision like that. . . . But you prepare yourself for that. I thought about it -- you know that you will have to make decisions at times that will [be]upsetting you for the rest of your life.''