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Minister Al-Ibrahim: It is our great pleasure to have Secretary O'Neill here in Kuwait and his distinguished delegates. As you know, this visit shows the deepness of the relationship between the United States and Kuwait. This morning he had the chance to meet with the Governor of the Central Bank, with representatives of the banks and the Kuwait Finance House, and also to meet Shaykh Sabah Al-Ahmad and myself. Unfortunately, it's a very short visit. We'd love to have you for a longer period of time to enjoy the spring weather and to show you the desert, but I know you have a very busy schedule. But, again, welcome to Kuwait. It is our pleasure to have you here.
Secretary O'Neill: Thank you very much. We have received a very warm welcome this morning and have had very successful meetings talking about the issues that are of mutual interest. It's wonderful to be in Kuwait and to feel the warmth of the friendship that exists between the United States and Kuwait. Our topic today was to talk about many things, but specifically about financial matters, and to thank the people of Kuwait and government officials for their very quick condemnation of terrorist activities after September the 11th, and for their very quick and forthcoming action of blocking the accounts or the names of the people identified as terrorists or suspected terrorists. I want to say how much we appreciate the wonderful cooperation that we've had on this issue, and also to talk about how we can go forward together and ensure that money is not flowing to terrorists. The United States can learn from the work that has been done in Kuwait, from the thinking about these issues, and to volunteer assistance going forward if it could be useful in Kuwait to deal with some specific issues. One issue that we in the United States have been keen to add to our perspective is to assure people around the world who are giving money to help others for charitable purposes that all of the money given for charitable purposes only goes for good purposes. Again, I think we had a very successful engagement in talking about this issue. I'm convinced we all have the same idea and purpose. Together, I'm also confident that we can reduce the possibility of terrorists having access to funds through our normal financial systems and our charitable systems.
For me, this was a very successful and pleasant engagement with the high officials in Kuwait. I'd be very happy to take a few questions.
Question: You, the Treasury Department, I think it was December or January, froze the accounts of the Kuwait-based Islamic Heritage Revival Society. I was wondering if any steps had been taken, perhaps to unfreeze the accounts, and if you could give any more information on that specific society.
Secretary O'Neill: We are not prepared to unfreeze those -- what we consider to be sub-accounts -- but we're continuing to exchange information. Again, we're most anxious that -- and think that everyone that I've spoken around the world shares this view -- that it is very important that money given for good purposes not end up being used for bad purposes, and to take every effort to make sure that this doesn't happen.
Question: There are some reports stating that the influx and the size of investment from the GCC countries has actually lowered after September 11 because of the measures taken by your administration. How can you assure investors that their money is in a safe place? And is this accurate first?
Secretary O'Neill: No, I think the assertion is wrong. I think if you look at our general funds and flow of funds they are not different from before and after September 11. In fact, on a somewhat broader note, it seems quite clear now that our economy maybe never suffered a recession. (We experienced) one quarter of negative growth, I guess, but the report now from the fourth quarter of our economy is far above the no-growth level of 1.4 percent. We are expecting a continuation of improving growth rates as we go through this year. So I would say that -- although we will never return to normal in the sense of being able to forget about the terrorist attacks of September 11 -- the economic fundamentals are moving back into place.
Question: To Minister Al-Ibrahim. Kuwait said that it was hiring international auditors to monitor the accounts of the charities, has it done that?
Minister Al-Ibrahim: Well, we didn't say that we are going to hire international auditors. We said we are going to stick to international accounting standards. There are Kuwaiti auditing offices here in Kuwait that can do this job. I have to assure you that what we are doing is part of the international effort and we are dealing with Security Council Resolution 1373 and we are adhering, as a member of the international community, to these resolutions.
Question: Are you planning to freeze other accounts for organizations, especially in Kuwait?
Secretary O'Neill: We are not making any announcements of freezing action today. But we are continually working on the further identification of people who have declared themselves to be terrorists or who take responsibility for a terrorist act.
Through our intelligence activities, we are working hard to identify other people who would harm innocent people around the world and to stop their money flow. It's an ongoing effort. I don't know that it will ever be finished.
Question: I know that all the GCC countries are extremely cooperative with the international allies to stop the terrorist activities, but how is it possible to trace the funds coming in and out the GCC countries when these countries are not applying tax revenues systems where you can trace all the funds?
Minister Al-Ibrahim: I don't see that that has anything to do with having a tax system. Since you have been working with the Commercial Bank of Kuwait, you know how the transfers are being done in Kuwait, through the Central Bank The system is very clear. This is being done for a long time. Kuwait has a very advanced banking system. We were dealing with these issues prior to September 11, and all people and experts who came and visited were very happy with the system we have. So there is nothing to do with our tax system here, or (the fact) that we don't have an income tax system.
Question: I want to know your view and your opinion about the U.S. economy in 2002 and what you expect in 2002 and 2003?
Secretary O'Neill: In 2002, as I said, we are expecting the first quarter of this year to be better than the forth quarter of last year. Then we are expecting to see successive quarters of growth, with the expectation that by the end of the year we will be growing at something between three and three and one-half percent. There are some economic observers who are now making estimates of even stronger growth than that because of the correction that's taken place in the inventory levels, and what looks like more rapid return to good growth rates than what people were expecting. It's my own expectation that 2003 will again be a year of substantial growth for the U.S. economy.
Question: There have been funds that were frozen all over the world which were suspected to be funding terrorists. Are there any steps taken to make sure that these funds are really and certainly funding terrorism and to release those who prove not to have a relation with terrorists?
I mean are you following up the funds frozen already, to release them if they are not certainly in relation with terrorists?
Secretary O'Neill: Yes.
Question: Some people believe that under the pretext of fighting terrorism the United States interferes in the internal affairs of countries. How do you respond to this?
Secretary O'Neill: It's simply not true. After the events of September 11, President Bush himself, and several of the rest of the members of the American administration, were in touch with world leaders and all the countries of the world. We said to them that we believe the attacks of the terrorists are attacks of uncivilized people on civilization.
If we are going to prevail, it will take the combined efforts of people everywhere in the world to identify people who want to do evil things. While we know that there are military cadres in Afghanistan, there are other people in the world who do their dirty work by providing money to those who want to hurt others. So we asked the leaders of the world to please join us in identifying these people and blocking their access to money. The response of every country has been uniformly the same, agreeing that we should together fight terrorism everywhere in the world. We've not given direction or instructions or even suggestions to individual countries about how they should be responding, but every place in the world has responded in an affirmative way to this call to support civilization.
Question: How concerned are you that there are still Kuwaiti charities or individuals here that could still be managing to finance terrorism. Secondly are you fully satisfied with the controls the Kuwaiti government has already taken to tighten certain charities and financials?
Secretary O'Neill: On the broader question about the charities: We have a very strong tradition in the United States of people giving substantial amounts of their own income and wealth to help people who have nothing, to help low income people and poor people, and people who have serious medical problems and don't have enough access to food. So we have a very big tradition in the United States of charities. I understand there is also a very strong tradition in the faith here of giving to help others. So, in that sense, I think we are very much together in believing it's a good thing for those who have much to help those who have little. We don't want to do anything that will interfere with that regular flow of charitable giving and support for good causes. But we do have information from places around the world where there have been instances -- without the knowledge of people who gave the money -- of some of the money they gave ending up providing support to those who want to do evil things. So we've said we think we should work together with other governments around the world to make sure that this doesn't happen. I think anyone who gives their own money with the intent of it being helpful to those who don't have very much has the right to believe that their money will go for a good purpose, not for a bad purpose. It's only in that sense that we've raised this issue. I think, frankly, that we're all learning together. One of the earliest identifications of a charitable institution that was providing money to a terrorist organization was located in the state of Texas in the United States. So this is not the United States saying 'everyone else has a problem, we don't have a problem.' We recognize this is a problem. We think it is something we should all work on together. We are very pleased with the response and with the conversations we had this morning, and with the resolutions to accomplish this purpose which I think we all share.
Thank you very much.
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