CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Saudi Arabian Press Conference on Terror Investigation
Aired December 3, 2002 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Saudi Arabia talks about its role on the war on terrorism. Now, any minute now, officials are set to release a report detailing what the kingdom has done, and says will do, to track money from its citizens. This is in answer to critics who say that Saudi efforts have been ineffective to this point and insincere as well.
This news conference is set to get under way any time this hour -- as you see, there's a live picture that we have set up -- and we'll go there once it gets under way.
Now, for more on what we can expect to hear at this news conference, let's bring in our State Department correspondent, Andrea Koppel. She is following the story for us in Washington.
Good morning -- Andrea.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Leon.
Well, as you know, anybody who has picked up a paper in the last week or turned on the television has seen reports which allege that the man who is the top diplomat in this building here at the Saudi embassy, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and his wife, Princess Haifa, had been accused by unnamed U.S. officials of inadvertently supporting passing donations to individuals who ended up giving the money -- may have given the money, in fact, to two of the 9/11 hijackers.
It is in response to those reports, which the Saudi government adamantly denies, and in addition to a series of negative reports that have criticized the Saudi government for not doing enough to crack down on terrorism, in particular to crack down on the giving of money, of tithing of Saudi incomes to charitable organizations linked to terrorism that the Saudi government today decided to take the PR offensive.
This is the report that's going to be rolled out here in just a couple of minutes. It's a nine-page report entitled, "Initiatives and actions taken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the financial area to combat terrorism."
The crown prince's chief foreign policy adviser, Adel Al-Jubeir, is going to be taking the podium in a couple of minutes. And what he is going to say, Leon, is essentially laying out a number of points that have been on the Saudi Web site for the last several months, and that is that the Saudis are now going to be auditing all charitable organizations -- there are about 300 of them -- in Saudi Arabia. That they are going to put in effect various measures in banks which will track money so that it can't be transferred from a bank to an individual and nobody knows who that individual is.
They're going to have any number of steps that they've already actually been putting into place for the last number of months, but they feel that that information has not been getting out to the American public, and in point of fact, hasn't been getting out to many within the administration at-large -- to the FBI, to the CIA, to the National Security Council, to the White House, to the State Department.
And so in point of fact, Adel Al-Jubeir, the chief foreign policy advisers, says that his government is also pushing the Bush administration to appoint a single clearinghouse for all of this information.
So, we will be hearing about this. Adel Al-Jubeir will be laying out this report and taking questions from reporters in just a couple of minutes -- Leon.
HARRIS: All right, well, Andrea, moments ago you mentioned the fact that the Saudi government has received quite a bit of criticism from voices within this country about its lack of sincerity, in the words of some, in following up on these matters. But have there also been lots of voices of concern here about the administration playing this so softly with the Saudis up to this point?
KOPPEL: Well, you know, that's absolutely true, Leon, but in point of fact, what Adel al-Jubeir will say is that the Saudis have been cooperating, but because various agencies within the U.S. government haven't been communicating with one another, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
Having said that, privately, Bush administration officials have said that they feel that the Saudi government has been very good in its cooperation, but still could do more.
HARRIS: Yes, and we see lots of activity picking up at the podium behind you. I have to suspect that he's going to be coming in fairly soon.
And from what you know about Mr. Al-Jubeir, he seems to be perhaps the most PR savvy member of the Saudi family who has been seen quite often here in the press and the media in the U.S.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: Good morning, everybody.
I am Adel Al-Jubeir.
And I don't have any space on the podium for my -- let me see what I can do. OK. Well, who needs remarks.
(LAUGHTER) I wanted to make a few comments about Saudi Arabia and the war on terrorism, and then I wanted to give you an opportunity to ask questions. I'm sure all of you by now have received a summary of the report that we put out in terms of the steps that Saudi Arabia has taken in the war against terrorism.
Saudi Arabia has been a victim of terrorism for the last 40 years. In the 1960s, we had bombs going off in Riyadh. We were able to apprehend the terrorists who committed it, and we severely punished them.
In the 1970s, our oil minister was hijacked with the other oil ministers by Carlos (ph), the international terrorist. We have had airplane hijackings. We have had our embassies attacked. We have had attempts against facilities in Saudi Arabia. And we pursued the terrorists mercilessly, and we punished them harshly.
In the 1980s, we also have had attempts against Saudi Arabia. And in the 1990s, al Qaeda struck in Saudi Arabia before it struck in the United States.
In 1995, the explosion in Riyadh, which resulted in the deaths at the national guard training mission, was the work of bin Laden. This was before the embassy bombings in East Africa. There have been a number of attempts against Saudi Arabia that we were able to stifle with the help of God and because of the diligence of our security services.
We have been vigilant in trying to choke off the financing for terrorists and those who engage in terrorism, because we believe that the most important part in the international effort against terrorism is to choke them of their financing and to handicap their abilities to do damage to innocent people.
In the 1990s, we were the first country in the world to freeze the assets of Osama bin Laden. We did so in 1994.
In 1996, we set up a joint counterterrorism committee with the United States whose main objective was to pursue al Qaeda.
Since September 11, we have engaged in a number of issues. Whether it involves the war against terrorism, whether it involves intelligence, whether it involves financial issues, whether it involves coordination and cooperation with other countries, we've done that.
If there is a fault that we take credit for, it's that we haven't talked about it. And this is about to change.
We believe that our country has been unfairly maligned. We believe that we have been subjected to criticism that we do not deserve. We believe that people have been misinformed about Saudi Arabia and what Saudi Arabia has done or frankly that people have lied about what we have done or what we allegedly have not done.
We have been described as the kernel of evil, the breeding ground for terrorists. Our faith has been maligned in ways that I did not expect Americans to ever do so. And people have been able to do that with a straight face, which I, as a human being, find very shocking.
We are announcing today some of the steps that we have taken both before September 11 as well as after September 11 in the financial front in the war against terrorism. And we hope that this will lay to rest the charges by those who either level those charges out of ignorance or out of malice so that it becomes very clear to the world that Saudi Arabia has been instrumental in this war against terrorism.
Ultimately, it is our two countries that are in the cross-hairs (ph) of al Qaeda. Virtually every attack by al Qaeda was either committed against the U.S. or Saudi Arabia or a common interest of our two countries. And we should keep that in mind when we look at this organization. And when we look at the commitment of Saudi Arabia to fight the scourge of terrorism and to bringing those who perpetrate terrorism to justice.
Now, I'll take a few minutes and talk to you -- sorry guys -- and talk to you about some of the steps we've taken. Saudi Arabia, we have a first rate banking system. Our banking system is probably one of the most solid ones outside of the G-7. We have had anti-money laundering laws and regulations and procedures in place since the early 1990s. We have adopted the 40 recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force, which drew out of the G-7 meeting in 1988.
In Paris, we have adopted the eight most recent recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force with regards to terrorism financing. We have asked the Financial Action Task Force to come into Saudi Arabia and give us an outside assessment of how effective that the implementation of these points has been. And they expect to do so in the spring of next year. I believe we are one of the first countries to do so.
We have added "know your customer" laws and regulations to our banking system so that nobody can open up a bank account and transfer money to a recipient who receives it in cash. It has to go from one bank account to another so that we have an audit trail so we can trace where funds go.
We have also put in place a financial intelligence unit that ties our central bank with the various banks in Saudi Arabia so they have real time in terms of either new threats or new ways for evil-doers to take advantage of financial systems or whatever. And I believe we are on the forefront of countries in doing so.
We have also set up a High Commission for Oversight of Charities, which is very similar to -- I'll get to this in a second. We set up a High Commission for Oversight of Charities. The purpose of this high commission is to look at ways to regulate charities, to help charities put in place financial control mechanisms and procedures so that people cannot take advantage of them. We are currently also going through audits of the charities to make sure that they know what needs to be done.
Our new regulations require charities to have audits. This new department that will be created, that will grow out of the High Commission for Oversight of Charities, will have that responsibility.
One of the issues that we didn't have in Saudi Arabia is, we don't pay taxes. And so as a consequence, we don't file returns. And so when you don't file returns in your organization, you don't do audits. So it wasn't that there was laxness in the system, it was just that we didn't have a mechanism that requires nonprofit organizations to perform audits. Now, we do.
We require our charities who do work outside Saudi Arabia to coordinate their international activities with the Foreign Ministry so we can help further guide them and help further work with them on ensuring that funds are accounted for and do not go to places they shouldn't go.
We do this not to clamp down on charity. Quite the contrary, charity is part of our faith. As Muslims, we are required to give to charity and to give generously. And we are glad and grateful and proud that our people do so.
What we want -- our desire is to ensure that the donors who donate funds to charities are assured that those funds go for the purposes that they're intended for. Our desire is to ensure that our charities are vigilant and are not in a position where people take advantage of them because they may or may not be aware of certain procedures. So that's sort of where we are.
We have communicated this to your government. Our two countries have had a solid friendship and alliance that has spanned over six decades. We have seen the coming and breaking of many storms. We have been partners in peace. We have been partners in war. And we are and shall remain partners in the war against terrorism.
This is something that affects both of our citizens. It's something that has an impact on global stability. And we will be vigilant. We will be determined. And we will be merciless when it comes to dealing with terrorism and those who perpetrate it.
In our desire to further strengthen cooperation and exchange of information with the U.S. government, our foreign minister had proposed to the U.S. that we expand, broaden and deepen the contacts that we have with the U.S. government in the anti-terrorism front and to add, in particular, expertise that deals with financial issues to ensure that everybody on this side of the ocean who needs to know knows and to ensure that everybody on our end who needs to know knows. And we look forward to enhancing visits and exchange of visits and meetings between Saudi officials and American officials in the weeks and months ahead.
I'll stop here and take some questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Al-Jubeir, you're cracking down, you say, on organized charities, how do deal with the problem of informal charity, where someone who could unintentionally give money, as was alleged last week to the (OFF-MIKE) how do you deal with the informal networking in the system of charities that could go to terror networks? AL-JUBEIR: Well, that's a good question. And it'll be very difficult to deal with not just for Saudi Arabia, but for every country.
I understand that the United States gives $10 billion a year in foreign aid and that American citizens give another $30 billion or so in private contributions, whether it's to Save The Children, whether it's writing checks directly to institutions outside the U.S. And it's very difficult to monitor this or to manage this or to control this.
We have no doubt that those who give for charitable purposes have the objective of helping others in need. We are much more public about the dangers that lurk and the possibility that somebody could try to deceive or could try to take advantage of, and we are hoping that through more public announcements, we can educate people so that they become more vigilant in how they and where they give their contributions.
The other issue, frankly, is we have an inter-banking system. Every dollar that leaves Saudi Arabia now can be traced. And if we find linkage toward illicit issues or illegal things or terrorism, we will pursue it and we will pursue it vigorously. We cannot allow our money to be used to murder our people, period.
QUESTION: Do you think that you have some responsibility yourself, as a kingdom, for the way that money has flowed for not being tougher (OFF-MIKE) and for not acknowledging that there is great sympathy among many of your people for bin Laden and his operatives?
AL-JUBEIR: Well, I think that there is responsibility to go around for everyone. If you look at September 11: It was conceived in Afghanistan. It was planned in Germany. It was funded through Dubai. It was executed in America. And they used Saudis. Everyone has a responsibility, and everyone has an obligation to work together in order to make sure that this doesn't happen again, not just in the United States, but in other places.
We know that it takes more than one -- it takes two to tango in a way. In this case, it takes the whole world to tango. You cannot be effective in the fight against terrorism if it is not a global effort. Money moves from one jurisdiction to another, and unless both jurisdictions cooperate, the trial is lost.
Intelligence information, law enforcement issues, it has to be a multilateral effort. We believe very strongly that pointing fingers and assigning blame doesn't get our or you or the rest of the world anywhere. What we need to do, as we have done, is join hands, rack our brains together and find ways to fight the scourge of terrorism.
QUESTION: In this time of closer cooperation between the kingdom and the United States, is the kingdom now willing to allow the United States to use Saudi bases, particularly the Prince Sultan Air Base, and allow the U.S. to over-fly the kingdom in the event there should be war against Iraq?
AL-JUBEIR: Well, I think I was talking about the war on terrorism. You're taking us to another issue.
The issue on Iraq is, from our perspective, the issue of arms control that needs to be dealt with at the United Nations. The president took this issue to the United Nations, for which he deserves a lot of credit and which we support.
The United Nations has passed a resolution. The Iraqis have accepted the resolution. The inspectors are now in Iraq. Let's see how that goes. Anything beyond that would be speculation.
We have said that we, as a member of the U.N., will support whatever decisions the U.N. makes. How we translate that support is something that we will have to decide when the time comes and when we weigh all the options. Anything I say to you now is purely speculative. And as diplomatic problem solvers, we can't be theorists.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) follow up, if I may? At the moment, am I correct in saying that the kingdom forbids the use of Saudi territory and over-fly rights in case there should be a war against Iraq?
AL-JUBEIR: I think that you are not correct in saying this. I think the answer to that is we have not made a decision, and that's what it is. We have not made a decision one way or another. We will not make a decision until the time comes and until we have weighed all of the options. That's sort of where it stands.
We need to see what happens with the inspectors on the ground. We need to see how extensive Iraqi cooperation is. We hope and pray for the sake of Iraq and for the sake of the region that Saddam will comply with the U.N. in a meticulous manner, will get rid of his weapons of mass destruction and will spare his country and the region of potential catastrophe.
If he doesn't, we believe it's up to the Security Council to decide what the next steps are. And at that point, we would have to see where we fit in. But anything I say to you now would be pure speculation.
Sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Good morning. I wanted to ask about the reports of (OFF-MIKE) You said that you've frozen 33 accounts belonging to three individuals. Only one of those individuals is identified (OFF-MIKE) Can you identify the other two individuals whose accounts have been frozen?
AL-JUBEIR: Yes. We have -- I think there's also an institution there that was not listed I think in the report. Three individuals and one institution. The institution is Enrapta (ph). We usually don't -- we don't make the names public. But I think most people in the U.S. are aware of it. I believe one person is Mr. Kadi (ph). And the third person I can't -- I don't know. I can find out for you and get back to you on that.
QUESTION: And also, this seems a rather small percentage. Apparently, you give $3 to $4 billion a year in charitable contributions, and only $5 million has been frozen.
AL-JUBEIR: We don't give $3 to $4 billion. That was an estimate. It was an estimate approximately or at least 95 percent -- 90 to 95 percent of Saudi charities operate domestically. They do not operate internationally. We have three large non-government organizations that are based in Saudi Arabia that operate internationally.
The other issue is because these charities operate internationally or because the money is outside Saudi Arabia, the bank accounts are maintained outside Saudi Arabia. Why would you keep money in Saudi Arabia if you're just disbursing it somewhere else? That's why the numbers in the Saudi accounts are fairly low. Some of the charities are -- one of the charities I believe is an English charity that is based in the Channel Islands. And I would assume that that's where they keep most of their accounts.
When Saudi Arabia and the United States designated the branch offices of the Al Haramain Foundation in Bosnia and in Somalia, as past supporters or funders or conduits or however you call it of terrorism, and we submitted their names to the United Nations so that other countries can take action in freezing their accounts. Those were accounts that were maintained, I would assume, in Bosnia and in Somalia. So we don't get the credit for the dollar amount. Other countries do.
QUESTION: If I could slip in one other. You also mentioned in a report that a number of suspects are detained. Could you tell us how many people have been arrested in Saudi Arabia for suspected links to al Qaeda?
AL-JUBEIR: I want to be careful because the people that are brought in for questioning may or may not be -- I don't want to say suspected of being linked to al Qaeda, because they may -- it may turn out that they are not.
We have questioned over 2,000 people. We have well over 100 people in detention. At one point, the number was closer to 200. We have extradited 16 people from Iran to Saudi Arabia.
We have broken up an al Qaeda cell that was headed by a person from the Sudan. This was the cell that was responsible for trying to use a shoulder-launched missile at Prince Sultan Air Base. We worked very closely with the Sudanese government to extradite the cell leader to Saudi Arabia. We have worked on tracking down and apprehending al Qaeda operatives as well as commanders in a number of other countries.
The one area that, while we are becoming more open in terms of what we say on finances, the one area that we will have to remain more guarded in is the law enforcement and the intelligence work, because people's lives are at stake. And while I would like to be able to give you real- time information of what's happening, including video footage for your colleagues from the networks, that's really not the way to do it.
But we have been, I believe -- I have no doubt that Saudi Arabia and the United States have been the two countries that have worked together the closest in this war on terrorism, with all due respect to the naysayers.
QUESTION: Since Paul O'Neill came to Saudi Arabia in March, there have only been these two joint designations. U.S. officials say they would like to do more, they have more names, but the Saudis are insisting on an unreasonably high criminal standard of proof before acting.
Is there any willingness by Saudi Arabia to relax somewhat the standard of proof before doing additional designations?
AL-JUBEIR: Yes. Well, I would like to see the officials that said this to you, because what we have in Washington right now, the atmosphere in the United States, unfortunately, is it's a feeding frenzy, it's "let's bash the Saudis" time. We are guilty before we say anything. We are guilty as charged. Nobody looks at the evidence. Nobody tries to prove these points.
The criticism that I hear in the newspapers always comes from anonymous officials. I have never met such an anonymous official. I come to your country many times. I have met with people in the State Department, in the White House, at the NSC, at the Treasury Department, at the Justice Department. I have not heard people describe it in the manner that you have.
Our two countries are working very closely on the issue of tracking the finances of people who support terrorism. Our view, as is the view of virtually every human being in the world with a sense of decency and justice, is that when you level a charge, or when you have suspicion, back it up with proof.
If I came into the United States and I say, "Freeze John Doe's accounts, because I believe he supports terrorism," what do you think your officials will tell me? They will tell me, "What's the proof?" If I tell them the proof is, "I heard a rumor," do you think that that would be sufficient?
I'm not saying that this is what they're saying regarding us. I'm saying that, if you put yourself in our shoes, or in the shoes of the Europeans, the issue of taking action against somebody in a very serious matter needs to be balanced with equity and justice. It can't be heavy handed.
We are working with the U.S. on looking at a number of individuals. We have asked the United States to come forth with whatever evidence it has, just like when we come to the United States and give the U.S. names, and we have given them many, many names. We back it up with whatever proof we have. And then we begin working together to see if this is sufficient to take action or not. QUESTION: Just a quick follow. You mentioned the Europeans. I don't think this is a case of Saudi bashing. U.S. officials make the same complaint about Europe, that they're demanding a similar standard.
AL-JUBEIR: Then could it be that the standard that these anonymous officials are asking for is unreasonable, rather than the other way around?
QUESTION: But the U.S. officials are saying that they may be willing to go ahead with designations based on information that the U.S. believes is credible, even if the Saudis or the Europeans or others are not willing to cooperate.
What would be the effect of...
AL-JUBEIR: Well, I think that that part of your question, I'm not saying it's you, but that line of thinking is fiction. The U.S. is not going to designate people without talking to us about it. We are allies; we're partners in this.
And so, with all due respect to people who leak nonsense in Washington -- and unfortunately there are a lot of them, especially after September 11, and especially when it comes to Saudi Arabia, that's why I'm standing before you -- we have discussions with your government on a continual basis.
We work together. We look -- we share information. When it comes to designations of either individuals or organizations, believe it or not, we work together. And we go back and forth, and we look at the information, and we make decisions based on that.
So what you hear about the U.S. is going to give Saudi Arabia ultimatums or the U.S. is thinking about giving Saudi Arabia ultimatums -- nonsense. Maybe somebody in the bowels of a bureaucracy came up with this great idea, but I guarantee you it didn't go anywhere. And I talk to your government, and our officials talk to your government on a continual basis, especially on this issue.
QUESTION: Prince Turki al Faisal, the former head of your intelligence service, is going to be announced in coming days as the new Saudi ambassador to the UK. A couple of questions.
One, why has he not responded or denied in any way, shape or form the allegations brought in a lawsuit by approximately 3,000 family members and victims of 9/11 in which he is named as one of the defendants? And secondly, how do you respond to those who charge that the Saudi government named him to this post to give him diplomatic immunity from legal prosecution?
AL-JUBEIR: OK. His Royal Highness Prince Turki al Faisal had the distinguished career as head of the Saudi intelligence service for almost 27 years.
And during those 27 years, his primary responsibility was tracking and bringing to justice terrorists. He was instrumental in setting up the joint -- the counterterrorism committee with the United States in the '90s.
He was instrumental in tracking down bin Laden, trying to.
He was instrumental in efforts between our two countries to look at the finances of bin Laden and track it through over 25 jurisdictions.
So in terms of the charges brought against him, nobody in Saudi Arabia thinks there is any merit to them.
If you are named in a lawsuit, then I assume that you wait to be served. And then, you respond to the charges in a legal manner. It doesn't serve a purpose to have these discussions or the charge, countercharge in the media or in the public sense when this issue has become a legal matter.
With regards to his appointment as ambassador to England, I believe that it is a credit to Saudi Arabia. It is a validation of his expertise and his experience. And we believe that he will do a splendid job representing the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in England. That has nothing to do with giving him diplomatic immunity.
Remember: He is a member of our royal family. He is the son of the late King Faisal. He was head of our intelligence service for 27 years. He already has diplomatic immunity. So this is not going to add or detract from it.
And I wouldn't -- I think that when it comes to the issue of the lawsuits, it is a legal matter that does not involve the Saudi government. The individuals that were named in the lawsuit have availed themselves of legal counsel, I understand. And are responding to this matter in a legal manner, which I believe is the only way that one can respond to it.
QUESTION: I want to just follow up. Earlier, you seemed to dismiss a bit the charge that your government is not freezing assets, but is being asked to, and then went ahead and gave a response, if that were to be the case. Can you (OFF-MIKE) clarify this a little bit? How many individuals and organizations has the U.S. government suggested that their assets be frozen? And are there specific cases or some general number of cases where you have decided not to freeze those assets because you think there's not sufficient evidence? AL-JUBEIR: I can't -- I know that, after September 11, the first request for freezes by the U.S. government, virtually every country in the world complied with it, including Saudi Arabia as a courtesy to the U.S.
Subsequent to that, virtually every country in the world said, "OK. Show us the evidence before you ask us to take steps."
Saudi Arabia, unlike most countries in the world, has a very, very close working relationship with the U.S. on the issue of counterterrorism and the finances in particular. So it's not that the U.S. gives us a list, it works both ways. There are almost daily contacts. We review names. We review organizations. We try to bring in other countries.
How did we designate the offices in Bosnia and Somalia? They're neither Saudi nor American. It was through very extensive and very productive joint work. We are looking, as we speak, at a number of other entities and individuals where we go back and forth.
My response to the previous question had to do with this issue of "America has a list." Well, if they have a list show it to me.
And so my point is, keep in mind that things go back and forth. You follow every lead that you can. We come to the United States with leads. The U.S. comes to us with leads. We do our own follow-up. The U.S. does its own follow-up. We work together on following up issues. It's very, very extensive. And it's very productive.
And it's not done in a public manner. And that's why the perception exists that: "Here is America, here is Saudi Arabia. By golly, the Saudis are not cooperating. We're going to slam them with a list, and we expect them to freeze those accounts." That's not how it works. It's not one is here and one is there. It's we're like this, and we work together in order to achieve a common objective of choking the finances of terrorists and ridding the world of the scourge of terrorism.
QUESTION: ... the kingdom have a definition of terror, terrorists or terrorism? And could it be that your definition isn't quite the same as the U.S.? You mentioned al Qaeda, so clearly you consider al Qaeda a terrorism group.
QUESTION: You know, the U.S. has a terror list. The State Department has a list of the organizations, as well as the countries, that sponsor terrorism.
QUESTION: And I wondered how the kingdom, how Saudi Arabia proceeds so far as dealing with charitable groups, charitable organizations, some of whose money -- some of whose money go for kindergartens...
QUESTION: ... some of whose money I'm sure goes for Jihad against Israel. That may not be a terror operation as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned. Throwing a rock may not be terrorism. What is the Saudi's terror definition of terrorism?
AL-JUBEIR: I think you have the universal definition of terrorism. And any time innocent people die for no reason, that is terrorism. In Saudi -- in our faith, anyone who takes the life of an innocent soul is as if he took the life of all of humanity. And anyone who saves an innocent soul is as if he saved or she saved all of humanity. It's a very simple definition.
Now, I think the war on terrorism that the world is waging is primarily focused on al Qaeda, because it operates over 60 or 70 different countries. It is active. It is dangerous. And it needs to be -- it's funding needs to be choked off. And it's infrastructure needs to be destroyed. And it's members need to be brought to justice. This is a global war.
When it comes to -- then you have other terrorist issues that different countries deal with. And I think those are more localized issues. The focus right now in the war on terrorism is really on this al Qaeda network.
A lot of countries unfortunately have tried to lump in every opposition group, whether it's legitimate opposition or not legitimate opposition, in order to make it part of the war on terrorism to justify whatever actions they take against those groups. And they want to point fingers at different countries. But I think most of you know who they are.
QUESTION: But does Saudi Arabia have a list, so to speak? Does it operate with the notion that there are certain groups that you have decided, for your own good reasons, are designated terrorists?
AL-JUBEIR: Yes. We think our terrorist organization...
QUESTION: ... besides al Qaeda?
AL-JUBEIR: Our threat comes from al Qaeda. They are the ones who operate in our region. We have -- I mean, just logically thinking, we're a small country. Do we care -- not that we care, but what can we do about terrorist groups that operate in South America, if that's the case?
On the issue of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Saudi Arabia's position as a government has been very clear. We have tried since, for the last 10 years, to cut off funding to Hamas. But that does not mean cutting off funding to Palestinians in the territories building hospitals, building roads, building schools, buying pharmaceuticals, buying food, yes. But to have money go toward violence is something that we have tried to work on and will continue to work on.
QUESTION: Congressman Burton has called another hearing for tomorrow on the issue of the (OFF-MIKE) to the kingdom. Your PR even said that you have been saying that you don't have to hand over these documents that have been subpoenaed to get the protection of the Vienna Convention.
But the committee has received an opinion from the world's leading expert on the convention saying that "No, these documents are not protected." Why is it that you're continuing to claim that these documents don't have to be turned over? How do you respond to Congressman Burton's claim that you're not acting in good faith?
AL-JUBEIR: I am absolutely delighted that you asked this question, because I'll put it in context for you, and I'll go back to the issue. And I couldn't have asked for a better question, sir. Thank you.
The issue of child custody cases, international child custody cases is a very painful one. It is one -- there are approximately 10,000 cases worldwide, 3,500 that include Americans, 1,100 cases are registered with your State Department. The overwhelming majority of cases involve countries neighboring the United States and in Europe, Germany, Austria, Mexico, Canada, England, so forth.
In the Middle East, the number of Saudi cases outstanding is 11. That's less than 1 percent. Chairman Burton has had I think two or three hearings on this issue focused solely on Saudi Arabia. I think he's planning another two or three hearings.
It is -- I find it interesting that if there is concern with the issue of child custody, the focus should be on the most egregious violators. And the focus should be on the countries that have the largest number of cases, not a country that has less than 1 percent.
Here's what we've done in terms of Saudi Arabia, which I believe is as much, if not more than any other country. We have set up a task force within our foreign ministry under the direction of the foreign minister himself to deal with the issue of child custody cases.
We have contacted non-government experts, third parties to give us a device on how one can set up mechanisms to resolve these issues, because at the end of the day, these are strictly personal matters between parents. They happen to be in two different countries, protected and subjected to two different laws. And that complicates our ability and your government's ability to work through those laws.
We have asked the United States, offered the United States the possibility of working out a bilateral protocol or mechanism between our two countries to deal with the issue of competing jurisdictions on child custody cases. We have been in contact with the parents of the children. We have people at this embassy who have been designated to follow up on these cases. And so, we're working the issue.
Of the 11 cases, we believe two should not be on the list. Two have asked or three have asked that our government and your government not interfere. Two, I don't believe involve Saudi citizens, so we're left with four. We have made that very clear to the committee. We have made that very clear to Chairman Burton. And yet, the committee continues to have 42 cases of Saudi Arabia on their web site. We don't know what these cases are. And we don't know where they got them from.
And with regards to the subpoenaing of the documents, yes, we believe very strongly that they are protected by the Vienna Convention.
And with regards to the expert you mentioned, let me tell you the background about that. We contacted the expert, the professor in London. The professor in London told us that she had received a series of questions from the committee without the benefit of our legal opinion, which went to the committee. When we showed her our legal opinion, she amended her position, and it is now closer to our position than that of Chairman Burton. I believe we have sent that to the committee in a legal form and showed it to them.
Which brings me back to the issue, the question of: Is Chairman Burton serious about dealing with child custody cases or is he engaging in a publicity stunt? And I believe that that is a question that you have to answer when you look at the size of the Saudi cases, the steps that Saudi Arabia has taken and the arguments back and forth between...
STAFF: Last question.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you, in cleaning up the accounting practices of the charities as well as freezing the accounts, is the kingdom admitting that some money has passed the terrorist organizations that have attacked U.S. assets?
AL-JUBEIR: I want to be careful. It's not about cleaning up. It's about helping them set up systems that are effective -- policies, procedures -- so they can track not only the donations that they receive, but the expenditures that they engage in.
We have not found a direct link or support from the Saudi charities to terrorist groups. But I cannot say because we're trying to prove a negative and the same question would apply with regards to the U.S.: Can somebody vouch that no money from Americans has gone to evildoers either inadvertently or unbeknownst to them or even directly? That's almost impossible question to answer. It's like the question, you know -- and anyway you answer it, you're kind of damned if you and damned if you don't.
Are all the funds accounted for? I believe in some of the charities they're not. Do we have any evidence that those funds went to terrorist groups? No, we don't. Does that mean none went? I can't answer that question. But we have no direct link.
We have discovered links, in terms of in Bosnia and Somalia, where the affiliated offices, which were not under the control of the head offices based in Saudi Arabia and which operated unbeknownst to the head office -- and this is according to your investigation, our investigation and that of a couple of other countries -- had been infiltrated and the parent organizations cut off these offices, submitted the names of the individuals to the U.N., and now they've become fugitives. And the assets of those offices were frozen.
And we're looking at a number of other areas or institutions in other parts of the world to see if similar things have happened. And, you know, I would only tell you, watch this space and stay tuned.
QUESTION: Sir, you opened up by saying that you felt Saudi Arabia has been unfairly maligned. In that context, do you believe that the planners of the 9/11 hijackings deliberately used Saudi to try to drive a wedge between this country and yours, and have you shared any information with the White House that would substantiate that?
AL-JUBEIR: Absolutely. We believe that if you look at al Qaeda, it's members come from over 50 countries, including the United States. When you look at the pilots, they came from Lebanon, from the Emirates, from Egypt, from Saudi Arabia. It was a veritable Arab league. When you look at the people in the back of the airplanes, they were all Saudis. And that begs the question, why? He could have had Egyptians. He could have had Germans. He could have had Americans. He could have Jamaicans. He could have had Indians. It could have had Malaysians. He chose Saudis. Why did he do it?
In order to give this operation a Saudi face and to create doubt in the minds of Americans about Saudi Arabia and drive a wedge between our two countries. And you know what? I think he almost succeeded.
And the irony of it is, those who are most critical or hostile toward Saudi Arabia in the United States are playing right into his hands. Bin Laden, if he's dead, is laughing at them from his grave. If he is alive and sitting in a cave, he's doing the same thing.
If, instead of 15 of the 19 hijackers, you had only two of three Saudis on the planes, does anyone in this room think that Saudi Arabia, that our people, that our faith, that our education system would have been subjected to this severe and outrageous criticism with which borders on hate?
And as somebody who has lived in the United States for almost 20 years, I have never seen this side of America. I never expected to see this side of America, this visceral, knee-jerk, "if it's Saudi, it's got to be bad," reaction. That's what I find surprising.
I can understand the anger. I can feel your anger. I can understand you not understanding how we reacted to 9/11, because our natures are different. You tend to be emotional. We tend to be inward-looking. You tend to be public about expressing your emotions. We tend to be quiet. And that comes across -- or came across after 9/11 as not caring, which is not the case.
QUESTION: If I can follow-up sir and ask you, in addition to being the commander in chief, the president sets the tone of the country. Do you think the president has responded to the kind of -- for what you just mentioned -- in an appropriate way?
AL-JUBEIR: Yes, I think it's been very clear from the president and the secretary of state, the NSC adviser, all of America's officials have consistently, publicly and on the record attested to the positive relationship between our two countries. The president, for which he deserves a lot of credit, early on embraced the American Muslim community who made sure that this is a war against terrorists, not a war against Muslims.
He visited the masque here in Washington. He was severely criticized by people, critics of Saudi Arabia. He maintained his course. He spoke out against some of the statements that came out of American religious leaders, which were disparaging and insulting towards Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
And for that the president receives and should receive tremendous credit. We are not surprised that he took those steps, because he is a God-fearing man. He is an honorable man. And he's a man with a sense of justice. And we want to express our thanks and appreciation for him taking these steps which show compassion, concern and sensitivity toward Muslims and toward people of other nationalities. And I think that exemplifies the true spirit of America.
I think I'll take one question. Who is dying for one?
QUESTION: The Bush administration says Saudi Arabia is in fact a good ally, but it needs to do more. I wonder if they are -- what they are encouraging you to do more than you are doing now and how you're reacting?
AL-JUBEIR: Yes, I think that that statement is accurate. Not just with Saudi Arabia, but with everybody else, including the United States. We all need to do more.
And if we don't know what else we should be doing, we should scratch your heads and find what else we can be doing more. America can do more. Saudi Arabia can do more. The Europeans can do more. Other countries can do more. There is no limit to what one can do to stop the murder of innocent people. And so, in that sense, we really don't take issue with the statement.
We have extensive cooperation with the U.S. We intend to expand, broaden and deepen those ties and those links with the U.S. and with other countries. We have trained our -- not only our security people, but we are training our banking people. We are training our finance people. We are training -- we are educating our public about the dangers of terrorism and the importance of staying the course. Absolutely, and we are making terrorism a part of our curriculum in our schools. And if we find other ways where we can help move this forward, we will.
QUESTION: Have they asked you -- have they laid specifics on the table, though? Have they asked you to take specific steps?
AL-JUBEIR: It's as I said earlier, it is not a relationship of they ask, we do, or we ask, they do.
It is a partnership. It is a partnership that has been going on for 60 years. In the fight on terrorism, it has been a partnership that has gone on since the mid-90s. We are in the same boat. We don't sit across each other from the table. It's a roundtable. We are the table. In particular, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
I think it would be more accurate to say that both of us together have asked other countries to do certain things, yes. But we don't ask each other to do different things. We are in this together. We are the two countries that are most threatened by this organization. And we are the two countries against whom this organization has taken action. So, do you see the -- what I mean?
I think there was one last question.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) that you said earlier. You said that audits and regulations have been put into effect. Is this something that's going to take affect immediately? Or is this going to be taken (OFF-MIKE) action?
AL-JUBEIR: No, the decision was made by the Higher Commission for Charities that charities would be subject to audits. To be fair, we have encountered absolutely no resistance from the charities. Quite the contrary, they welcomed the involvement of the financial people in helping them set up systems that will make them more effective in tracking their accounts and so forth.
What I meant by the audits is, after September 11 whenever we hear, we track and see where funding may have come or where suspicions are raised, and we have performed audits on some of the charities -- not all of them. We are still going through that process.
The decision, like I said, has been made. The regulation is in place. I can't tell you if it'll take two weeks or if it'll take two months. But the audits are being performed as we speak. Some of them have been performed. Guidelines for charities are in place. We are working with the charities to help them set procedures and policies for maintaining their accounts.
For example, a lot of charities raise money through cash at the mosques. And so what happens to that cash? It needs to be logged in. It needs to be tracked. It needs to be put in a bank account. And then you have control over where it goes from that bank account.
We believe that this would serve the interests of the donors who give money to help people in need. It will serve the interests of the charities to ensure that they know how and where their funds are spent, and to ensure that nobody can take advantage of their generosity and their charity. And it will serve the interests of Saudi Arabia. And it will hopefully serve as a model for other countries to emulate so that we can prevent terrorists or evildoers from prying on innocent, honest, law-abiding institutions or individuals.
HARRIS: We've been listening to a senior foreign policy adviser for Saudi Arabia, Adel al-Jubeir, at his press conference there in Washington. He's speaking for some 50 minutes or so this morning and has been quite clear in some strong terms expressing frustration, his frustration, as what he has perceived as his country not getting full credit and appreciation for all that it has done in the war on terrorism. And he believes that maybe perhaps the country should start talking about it some more. So that's what he did this morning.
He ticked off a few of the items that his country -- a few of the measures his country has taken in order to chip in in the fight against terror. He says that the different guidelines issued by the Financial Action Task Force has been adopted by the Saudi Arabian country, and as well that task force has been invited to come to Saudi Arabia and look at the measures as they are being enacted there.
He also says that Saudi Arabia has enacted know-your-customer laws there in financial institutions so that there can't be any more of these anonymous transfers of money into and out of the country. He also says that because of these new laws every dollar that leaves Saudi Arabia can now be traced.
He also mentioned that there is the development of a high commission for oversight of charities as well as a new auditing procedure to look at charities. He also noted that fact that one reason all charities have not been audited in the past is because Saudi Arabia does not have a tax system as we do here in this country, so, therefore, institutions do not file tax forms with the government.
Now, at the beginning what we also heard in these words of frustration that came from Mr. al-Jubeir, he said that this is really boiling down to a matter of perception, that perhaps that what's happening here in this country is that the problem in Saudi Arabia has not been talking about all that they have done, and that's the reason why this country feels about it the way they do.
Let's check and see how things are shaping up at the White House, if that is actually the perception there at the White House.
Our Suzanne Malveaux is standing by there, and she's got the latest reaction from the White House to what we heard this morning -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, a senior administration official is calling this really a good step, a welcome plan, that Saudi Arabia is being more vigilant in following the money trail, but also that, officials say, that much more needs to be done. President Bush always publicly has called Saudi Arabia a good partner in the war on terror.
But privately, administration sources have been saying they have been frustrated that Saudi officials have not done more to crack down on individuals, on groups, that contribute to these terrorist organizations. They are pleased with the news. There has been some tension recently from the revelation of funds from the Saudi ambassador's wife possibly inadvertently going to some of the September 11 hijackers.
But the Bush administration, having said that, will not have any type of public dispute with Saudi Arabia. As you know, it is a critical ally in the war on terror. The United States depends on it for oil as well as intelligence and its air bases, that this is not a fight that the administration is going to have. Many White House officials say they agree with the Saudi officials that much of the talk of this tension has really been exaggerated, that there is a close relationship, at least a utilitarian relationship, between the two nations.
HARRIS: Suzanne, as we talk about President Bush and his administration's stance, we see now that President Bush has arrived at the campaign stop that he's scheduled at today, at Louisiana. He's campaigning there for Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell, who is trying to fill that Senate seat there that is vacant right now in Louisiana. As a matter of fact, this all comes from -- back on November 5.
But Suzanne, what are you hearing there at the administration about the measures that we heard Mr. al-Jubeir talk about? is Saudi Arabia going far enough in this administration's eyes?
MALVEAUX: The administration says that they are definitely hopeful that this is a good first step. They're going to wait and see just how far it goes. But there is quite a bit of understanding among officials that, yes, this is an ongoing process, that Saudi Arabia does not have the same type of infrastructure that the United States has when it comes to tracking where the money goes, whose hands it is exchanged -- that type of thing. That they don't really have any type of way of following where these dollars are. They certainly hope that this is a sign that they will at least be more vigilant in making sure that that happens. And U.S. officials saying also that they will contribute, they're also working with Saudi officials to make sure that that happens.
All right, Suzanne Malveaux, standing by at the White House, thanks, Suzanne. Check back with you later on.
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