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U.S.: Washington Seeks More Saudi Help Against Terrorism

Washington, 27 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush says Saudi Arabia can do more to help in the war against terrorism but insists that Riyadh remains a good friend of the United States.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, speaking today with reporters in Washington, said the Saudi government is "a good partner" in the campaign against terrorism, but he added that the United States is pressing it to help further.

Fleischer was responding to questions about an article in "The Washington Post" newspaper saying a task force of Bush's National Security Council is urging the president to demand that Saudi Arabia crack down on the financing of terrorism by Saudi nationals.

The article says the task force wants to give the Saudi Arabian government 90 days to act, or the U.S. government will take action on its own.

At today's daily briefing, Fleischer was asked repeatedly about the Bush administration's feelings about the contribution of the Saudi government to the war against terrorism. Fleischer gave the same answer to each question, and finally his voice showed his impatience. "I want to make this clear. The president [Bush] believes Saudi Arabia is a good partner in the war on terrorism, and we will work with Saudi Arabia to help them to do more, because when Saudi Arabia does more, it benefits all of us," Fleischer said.

One reporter asked how the U.S. administration could call Saudi Arabia a "good partner" in the war against terrorism if 15 of the 19 hijackers of 11 September 2001 were Saudis, and when Saudi money is believed to finance major terrorist organizations. Fleischer replied: "I think the fact that many of the hijackers came from that nation [Saudi Arabia] cannot and should not be read as an indictment of the country. It is also possible they were picked for that mission because the people who picked them thought it could be used as a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia."

The Washington-based newspaper reported that U.S. intelligence organizations have concluded that nine wealthy individuals, including seven Saudis, one Pakistani, and one Egyptian, are the chief financiers for Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda and other Muslim terrorist groups.

Fleischer dismissed the report as unworthy of comment because it was based on sources who refused to allow their names to be used.

Some critics of Saudi Arabia have accused Riyadh of not cooperating fully in the investigations of the attacks. They also accuse the Saudi royal family of interfering with the U.S. probe of the 1996 terrorist attack on the U.S. military base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 U.S. servicemen.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, is investigating whether some organizations are posing as fundraisers for poor people in the Middle East but are actually diverting money to terrorist organizations.

Suspicions of Saudi Arabia's motives grew recently with the disclosure that the wife of the Saudi ambassador to Washington gave financial aid to the family of a Saudi man living in California. He was a friend of two men who later took part in the attacks on New York and Washington.

The ambassador's wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, has issued a statement acknowledging that she sent money to a man whom she described as being in financial need. But she stressed that it would be "irresponsible" to link her help to the terrorists.

So far, there is no evidence that the princess had any intention of helping to finance the attacks or that any of the money actually reached the hijackers. But some members of Congress are demanding the Federal Bureau of Investigation look deeper into the matter.