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Saudi Officials Defend Effort to Crackdown on Charities


Saudi Arabian officials in Washington are responding to critics who say the Saudi government is not doing enough to prevent charitable contributions from winding up in the hands of terrorists.

A rare news conference at the Saudi Embassy in Washington signaled the beginning of a public relations offensive that the Saudis hope will improve their image with members of Congress and the American public.

Adel Al-Jubeir is the foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah. He told reporters that Saudi Arabia feels unfairly maligned by accusations that his country is not doing all it can to help in the war on terrorism:

"I never expected to see this side of America, this visceral, knee-jerk, 'if it is Saudi, it has got to be bad' reaction. That is what I find surprising. I can understand the anger," he said. "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 came across after 9-11 as not caring, which is not the case."

Saudi officials released a report detailing a number of steps they have taken in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks to crack down on terrorist funding. These include freezing assets of more than $5 million and screening charitable groups to determine if any of those donations wind up in the hands of terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

Mr. al-Jubeir says checking the various charity groups in Saudi Arabia will take time.

"Are all of the funds accounted for? I believe in some of the charities they are not," he said. "Do we have any evidence that those funds went to terrorist groups? No, we do not. Does that mean none went? I can not answer that question,"

U.S. officials and members of Congress have been pressing the Saudis to do more to tighten controls on the flow of money to terrorists.

Mr. al-Jubeir says that Saudi authorities have questioned more than 2,000 people about possible links to al-Qaida and more than 100 remain in custody. He says the United States and Saudi Arabia remain strong allies and partners in the war on terrorism.

On another subject, Mr. al-Jubeir says the Saudis have not decided whether to allow U.S. warplanes to fly over Saudi territory or allow the United States to use Saudi military bases in the event of an attack against Iraq.

"We hope and pray for the sake of Iraq and the 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 a potential catastrophe," he said. "If he does not, we believe it is up to the U.N. Security Council to decide what the next steps are and, at that point, we will have to see where we fit in."

U.S. officials have praised Saudi Arabia as a good partner in the war on terrorism, but have also said that the Saudis and many other countries can do more to help.

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