September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Press Conference William J. Burns U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Kuwait January 12, 2002

Press Conference William J. Burns U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
Embassy of the United States of America Kuwait City, State of Kuwait January 12, 2002

Assistant Secretary Burns: Thank you very much. Just at the outset, I simply want to say that I am delighted to be back in Kuwait. This is an opportunity to reinforce the commitment of the United States to our partnership with Kuwait.

I had the opportunity to convey in my meeting with Shaykh Sabah a message from President Bush to His Highness the Amir, reinforcing our commitment to Kuwait. It also gave me the opportunity to express our appreciation for all of the cooperation between Kuwait and the United States in the campaign against terrorism since the eleventh of September. This is very much a shared interest not just of the United States and Kuwait but of many, many countries around the world. We are determined to continue to work together in that spirit.

We talked about our mutual commitment to reconstruction in Afghanistan and what both of us can do to support the Interim Authority there.

Again, I stressed the continuing American commitment to the security of Kuwait in the face of the serious continuing threat from Iraq. I also stressed the commitment of the United States, working with Kuwait and other members of the international community, to find out the truth about Kuwaiti prisoners in Iraq.

And finally, we had an opportunity to review our continuing efforts to promote peace between Palestinians and Israelis. So with that very brief introduction, I'd be glad to try to respond to your questions.

Question: Did you speak about the U.S., or what we hear about investigations going on, or looking into the Kuwaiti charity organization, Revival of Islamic Heritage Society? Did your talks cover that and can you give us a little information about that?

Assistant Secretary Burns: Sure. In general terms, what I would stress again is that our commitment is to support Kuwait, as is the case with many countries around the world, and Kuwait's efforts to ensure that people can make charitable contributions, which are honorable things to do, and that their money gets to the places that they are intended to. And what we've done is we've tried to identify certain institutions and individuals about whom we believe there are questions, and we want to work with the Kuwaiti authorities in an effort to try to ensure, as I said, to try to make sure the contributions are handled in a fair and sensible way and get where they are intended.

The concerns that we've expressed, or at least the actions we've taken, have not been aimed at individuals or organizations in Kuwait. They have been aimed at individuals and organizations in South Asia with connections to Kuwaiti institutions. Individuals and organizations that at least we have concerns about, whether or not they have defrauded people, taken advantage of money that was intended to widows and orphans. And, as I said, we want to do this in a practical, quiet, cooperative way, and I think that there is some long-term benefit in this for all of us.

We've identified institutions in the United States about whom we have concerns and where we need to strengthen our own regulations and our own commitment on this issue. And I think over time Kuwait obviously has an interest in establishing regulations which ensure that charitable organizations work properly. Again, the issue here is not people's legitimate right and interest in making charitable contributions to people who need it, whether in Afghanistan or Palestine or elsewhere. But it's a question of how that's done and supporting Kuwait's efforts to make that process work as it should.

Question: With regards to the prisoners taken from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban that were transferred to the United States, Mr. Rumsfeld last night commented that they weren't prisoners of war, and human rights organizations said that the U.S. is violating their human rights by the way they were transported in chains and being put in cages. What is your comment on that? Is the United States violating their basic human rights?

Assistant Secretary Burns: No, I don't think that is true. We will treat people who are detained humanely, and I think that's what Secretary Rumsfeld made very clear. Where we have questions about nationals of particular countries, whether it is Kuwait or some other country, we'll obviously consult very carefully with those governments, including Kuwait, about questions and information about individuals. But that is something we'll handle directly with those governments.

Question: Is Ihya'a Al-Turath [Arabic for Revival of Islamic Heritage Society] part of these institutions you asked the Kuwaiti government and Finance Minister to freeze their assets in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Have you discussed with Shaykh Sabah...there are a lot of rumors that a military action will be taken against Iraq in a few months ahead. Have you discussed this issue?

Assistant Secretary Burns: Well, on the first issue about financial institutions, as I said, the Treasury Department in the United States has identified a couple of institutions about whom we have concerns. But as I said, the point here is that we are going to work with the Kuwaiti government to support them and their efforts to get to the bottom of those questions and concerns.

On the question of Iraq, what I would say is, as I stressed before, that we have serious continuing concerns about the behavior of that regime -- its failure to abide by its UN Security Council obligations with regards to weapons of mass destruction, inspections and also with regard to the question of missing Kuwaitis. All of those are very important concerns for the United States. As the President and Secretary Powell made clear, there haven't been any decisions made with regard to particular options, but they've also made clear that all options are available. At the moment, our focus with regard to military questions is on the campaign in Afghanistan and the Al-Qaeda network, and we are determined to finish the job there. But, as I said, this is something on which we'll consult very closely with our friends in Kuwait and elsewhere in the region.

Question: Do you know anything about the institutions in Kuwait?

Assistant Secretary Burns: No, I think we've already made a public announcement yesterday with regards to a couple of institutions.

Question: Sir, does the U.S. have any Kuwaiti prisoners from Afghanistan in custody? What do you know about the 15-year old boy, Mohammed al-Anezi, who is believed to be in Afghanistan?

Assistant Secretary Burns: On that particular question, I honestly don't know about the individual you mentioned, but we will certainly provide whatever information we can on particular individuals. And, as I said, where we have individuals of whatever nationality, Kuwaiti or others, that we've identified, we'll be in touch with governments and if they have questions we'll do our best to answer them. And certainly if we have questions we'll consult with those governments to see what further background they can provide.

Question: Did you ask the Kuwaiti government to contribute money for the reconstruction of Afghanistan? And if so, how much? Can you give us some figures?

Assistant Secretary Burns: The Kuwaiti government is obviously going to make its own decisions about what it can do in support of reconstruction in Afghanistan. I believe Kuwait is going to take part in the reconstruction conference that's going to take place in Tokyo in about ten days time. I think that provides a very good opportunity for countries around the world to demonstrate their commitment to stabilization in Afghanistan and to the reconstruction of that country after a quarter of a century of really terrible conditions. So I have no doubt of Kuwait's commitment or of its generosity. But I think it is for the Kuwaiti government to announce what it is prepared to do. Maybe I better just take one last question.

Question: In the campaign against terrorism, beyond the military, law enforcement and financial crackdowns, what efforts do you think the U.S. could do to try to get at the roots of terrorism, the political roots of terrorism?

Assistant Secretary Burns: It's a very good question. Our immediate task is obviously going to be to deal with those responsible for what happened on the eleventh of September -- something in which not just the United States, but countries around the world, have a very powerful interest. And then beyond that, to try and deal with terrorist threats wherever they arise in the world -- as President Bush put it, "groups with global reach." And that involves a whole range of instruments, not just military ones, but as you said, law enforcement and information sharing and cooperation in cutting off financial flows.

It is also important to understand as part of our broader policy in this part of the world, and in other parts of the world, that we reject the kind of negative agenda that people in Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups suggest, an agenda which is basically destructive and doesn't offer anything positive to peoples in the region. We need to work with our friends in the region to try and demonstrate that we have a shared interest in offering people a sense of hope -- whether it is economic hope, whether it is political hope by encouraging political participation and greater openness, or whether it is a resolution of long standing diplomatic conflicts which I know are of deep, deep concern to people in this region, starting with the Arab-Israeli conflict. We also have an interest in promoting stable security arrangements in this part of the world. So all of those are broader interests that have roots that go well beyond the eleventh of September, but have acquired a priority of even greater importance since then. We need to keep working hard on those.

Question: But how do you convince people that there is hope at the grass roots level? What do those projects look like when implemented?

Assistant Secretary Burns: Well, I think if you just take one example, promoting economic change is very, very important. We do a lot in terms of assistance projects in this region, and other governments contribute as well. It is important to demonstrate to people there are tangible results that come from those. Over time, the gap that exists in some societies between rich and poor must get narrower, so that people have some sense that if economic growth occurs its going to be spread fairly across the society. So, I think it is an enormous challenge. It is not one that the United States is going to solve alone. But we have an important contribution to make. Especially where we see governments and leaderships and peoples who are willing to help themselves, we have an interest in helping them to do that because a lot of decisions on economic reform and restructuring are very, very hard ones. And for people who are determined to make those decisions, we're going to provide all the help we can.

Thank you very much.

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