The White House is downplaying U.S. newspaper reports that the Bush Administration is considering a deadline for Saudi Arabia to crack down on alleged terrorist finances. The Washington Post says a presidential task force is recommending unilateral action against Saudi Arabia if it does not move against suspected terrorist finances within 90 days.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the National Security Council task force is looking at a number of countries involved in the fight against terrorism but has not made any recommendations.
On Saudi Arabia, Mr. Fleischer said President Bush considers the country an important ally. "The president believes that Saudi Arabia has been a good partner in the war against terrorism. But even a good partner like Saudi Arabia can do more in the war against terrorism and that involves the financial front, diplomatic front, et cetera," he said.
Mr. Fleischer said it is the job of the United States to work with Saudi Arabia to push them "to do more" and take a look at everything they can to be effective in blocking terrorist finances.
Just as President Bush believes the United States must continue to do more to fight terrorism, Mr. Fleischer says the president is pushing every nation around the world to do more as well.
Saudi Arabia has drawn more attention than most in the fight against terrorism, first because most of the hijackers in last year's September 11 attacks were Saudi citizens.
Then came reports this week that the FBI is investigating whether the wife of the Saudi ambassador to Washington is connected to a charitable donation to be funneled to two of the September 11 hijackers.
Saudi officials say it is "outrageous" to think that that the ambassador's wife would purposely send money to al-Qaida terrorists.
Mr. Fleischer said the worldwide hunt for terrorist finances has become more difficult as groups change their tactics to hide illegal funds. "In the financial front, much of the low-lying fruit has already been picked both in the western nations and around the world. What remains now, just like the efforts to bring people into custody and to arrest individuals, is a slow, methodical fight because the easier fights have all been waged and now the terrorists have gone underground. They are hiding. They are doing better at trying to hide their money in places where Western banks are not able to use the sophisticated resources of Western technology to find money trails," Mr. Fleischer said.
He dismissed the Washington Post report suggesting plans for an ultimatum for Saudi Arabia saying it reflected the views of only one member of the task force.
The story said U.S. intelligence officials have compiled a list of nine wealthy individuals, seven Saudis, a Pakistani, and an Egyptian, who are believed to be al-Qaida's core financiers.