Skip to comments.Saudis Balk at US Request to Freeze Bank Accounts
Posted on 11/26/2001 9:48:01 PM PST by at bay
Saudis Balk at U.S. Request to Freeze Bank Accounts
By DOUGLAS JEHL
IYADH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 26 Saudi Arabia is balking at American requests to freeze the bank accounts of those the United States says are linked to terrorism, Saudi and American officials said today. The Saudis' hesitancy has prompted the Bush administration to prepare to send a delegation to the kingdom to discuss the standoff.
The delegation from the State Department, the Treasury Department and the National Security Council would probably be led by Ryan Crocker, a deputy assistant secretary of state, and its task would be to persuade senior Saudi officials to "give the green light" on financial cooperation, an American official said.
In an interview today, a senior Saudi official said American requests for the freezing of bank accounts here had not been substantiated by proof that the individuals and businesses named had any link to terrorism.
"This is the problem between us and the Americans," the Saudi official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "When they ask us to do something, we say, `Give us the evidence.' That's when they accuse us of helping the terrorists."
Such blunt language, and the disclosure of plans to dispatch the American team to Riyadh, laid bare some of the strains that continue to divide the two countries, even as both have pledged to work closely together in what the United States calls the war on terrorism.
On strictly criminal matters, American officials have said, representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Saudi Arabia have won unprecedented cooperation from counterparts at the Interior Ministry. The two sides, they said, have been meeting almost every day to share information about terrorist suspects, including the 15 Saudis who were among the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks.
But on financial matters, both the Saudis and Americans say, progress has been much slower. A United States official said the Saudi government had instructed banks to identify accounts held by individuals and organizations named by the United States, but the official said he did not know of cases in which funds had actually been frozen, despite American requests.
The two countries seem at pains to protect what both see as an important and sensitive relationship. [In Washington, a senior Treasury Department official said: "We have had numerous discussions with our counterparts in Saudi Arabia. No senior official from Saudi Arabia has asked us for information. We will be happy to provide any information they request."]
In an interview last week, the foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, defended what he called the kingdom's cautious, go-slow approach, particularly when the American requests touched on Islamic charities said to have channeled money to terrorist organizations.
"I don't think the intent was to make a list that would be frozen without proof," Prince Saud said. "We have urged on everybody concerned that when you're talking about financial assets and banks and organizations that are dealing with humanitarian affairs, one must be careful not to do damage to institutions unjustly.
"It behooves us that sound institutions not get harmed by mistaken identities, or that humanitarian organizations that are doing a good service not be tarnished, because God knows that humanitarian efforts are needed direly. We don't want to do damage to these institutions without having the facts."
Among the Saudis named by the Treasury Department as those who have channeled millions of dollars to terrorist organizations is Yasin al- Qadi, a prominent businessman who the department said had raised money from some of the country's most prominent families through the Muwafaq Foundation, which was not on the list.
The department described the foundation as a front for Osama bin Laden's network, Al Qaeda, but Mr. Qadi has rejected the accusation as absurd, and has filed suit in a British court to challenge the freezing of his assets in Britain.
Neither American nor Saudi officials would discuss in any detail the status of Mr. Qadi's case or others being discussed. But their accounts made clear that both sides regarded the visit of the American delegation which is expected to present classified evidence to back up the administration's allegations as an important test for future financial cooperation in fighting terrorism.
"We cannot move without evidence, and no one has given us the evidence," the senior Saudi official said in the interview today.
The standoff carries echoes of past frictions in antiterrorist investigations, like those involving a 1995 bombing in Riyadh that killed several American military advisers and another bombing in 1996 in Dhahran that killed 19 American airmen.
In those cases, the Saudis proved reluctant to allow American investigators access to Saudi suspects, leading to American complaints that the Saudis were too sensitive to sovereignty concerns, and to Saudi condemnation of what was seen as American intrusiveness.
This time, American officials say, the fact that the attacks of Sept. 11 took place in the United States rather than in Saudi Arabia has led to smoother cooperation on the criminal side of the case, because the Saudis have not insisted on taking the lead role.
"There literally have been hundreds of things that we have asked, and we have gotten more than hundreds of things back," an American official said of the near-daily meetings involving F.B.I. and Interior Ministry officials.
But the American officials said that even the extraordinary nature of the Sept. 11 attacks had not eased the wrangling on the financial side, with the Saudis clearly regarding the American accusations against Mr. Qadi and others with considerable skepticism.
Along with Mr. Crocker, the State Department official with responsibility for the Persian Gulf states, the delegation would include R. Richard Newcomb, director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Fun, and short. Send Rumsfeld. He'll be very wordy and kissy-kissy.
Let 'em sweat. Just go ahead and let the mice squeak. They can stop us?
The Saudi's are knee deep in their financing of Osama bin Laden's network, and have been for years.
We will not address the truth of this issue adminstratively until we have the means to obviate the use of Saudi oil by researching and providing our own to our nation.
Oil independance will provide true foreign policy independance.