September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill Media Roundtable Conference Palace Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; March 6, 2002

United States Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill

Media Roundtable Conference Palace Jeddah, Saudi Arabia March 6, 2002

Secretary O'Neil: We've had very interesting and I think successful meetings beginning yesterday afternoon and continuing into the evening last night. And then we had a resumption of our meetings this morning at 9:00, finishing just a short while ago with a visit to the Technical College.

In these meetings I found a wonderful spirit of shared interest and cooperative spirit about the important issues of the world. We've talked about the world economy at large; we've talked about the regional economy; we've talked about bi-lateral work together. We resolved that in the spirit of an agreement signed in 1974 that we will redouble our efforts to speak with each other and work with each other on a regular basis, to talk about all of the issues that engage Saudi Arabia and the United States. I said that the spirit and feeling has been one of great cooperation and shared interest between our two peoples.

I was intrigued by the visit to the technical college this morning to see how students are being prepared to take part in the economy, to provide education on a world-competitive basis. And it was really quite fulfilling to see the energy of the professional staff at the college and how they're approaching this work and the new initiatives they have coming in the very near future. So I would say to begin with, excellent set of meetings and conversations and I'm looking to the opportunity this afternoon to meet with the Crown Prince and then, hopefully to return on a fairly regular basis for a continuation of our conversation.

The Finance Minister and I had the opportunity to engage each other in Japan a few weeks ago and we both observed that we're having opportunities on a fairly frequent basis. I think the next one will be in Monterey Mexico; we'll have an opportunity to see each other again, then at the World Bank/IMF meetings. So I think we can see a regular program going forward where we can speak with each other and talk about the important issues. And with that I'd be happy to take your questions.

Question: I'm sure that Saudi Arabia would share your views in establishing the trail to terrorist organizations, financial terrorist organizations, but those terrorist organiza-tions do not have declared address to transfer the money to, and the organizations you listed, many of them, I'm sure the Saudis here and other countries abroad also do not share your views that those organizations are terrorist or should be labeled as terrorist organizations. Is that a matter of discussion? For example if you pick just one organiza-tion, it's called Holy Land Foundation, in America. That organization is also known here, is respected here in Saudi Arabia by different business communities and it is not seen as a terrorist organization, when you see it as a terrorist. How could you solve this?

Secretary O'Neil: Okay, well let me start by putting this issue in the broadest context. At last count there are 189 nations in the world. We think there is substantial evidence that there are cells of terrorists in many, many nations in the world. Therefore, if the world's people are going to be protected from terrorists, we need to work on-as you say, they don't have an address-we need to work on where they are, not where we may wish they were or where we may think they are, we need to work on finding out where they are in fact. And they're not holding out a sign saying "We're a terrorist... please come and get us!" What that says to me is that we in the civilized world must work together to identify people who are terrorist or who are suspected to be terrorist, so that we can, together, protect ourselves against the threat of the kind of event that occurred in the United States on September the 11th. We think that the possibility of terrorist attack is as great everyplace in the world as it is in the United States and therefore this is not an issue of the United States or for the United States; this is an issue of and for the world.

To your more specific question about the Holy Land Foundation: we found that this organization that was operating in the United States was, to the best of our knowledge, providing financial support for terrorists. I think the fact that you raised it is important. We're not saying to the world that this is the rest of the world's problem or that there is one country or five countries or ten countries that are the only places where terrorists can be. I think the evidence is much to the contrary. And so when we look at this problem we think about the idea of "we." We don't think about the idea of "us" or "I" or "they." We think this is a subject for "We of the civilized world" to work on together.

Question:Your Excellency, do you have any direct evidence about any Saudis, Saudi businessmen, that he had financed any terrorist activities?

Secretary O'Neil:We have made it our practice, when we think that we have sufficient evidence to register a name, that we register a name. We don't have any comment to make until we believe the evidence is sufficient that there should be a listing. And there's of course an opportunity for people who have been listed to say that it's not true and to offer evidence to refute the charge. We're trying to be as careful as possible in doing this so that we don't unfairly identify people. But we also feel the weight of responsibility of being sure that where the evidence seems to be powerful that we don't leave the subject alone with the hope that it's not true.

I would say that there's another important thing in this, that's a growing trend, which I think is very important. There was a list that was forthcoming from the UK at the end of last year. And I will tell you the reason it came forward. Maybe it would have anyway, but there was a meeting in Washington where I had an opportunity to speak with the finance minister of the UK and I said to him it would be a very helpful if you were showing that you were working on the subject as well and if you have through your own analysis identified people that should be put on the worldwide list this would be a way of making the point that this is "we"; this is the world that needs to pay attention to this subject. So a few weeks after our meeting they produced a list which we added to our list. And last week, when I was on another trip, the people in Spain identified a list which we also added to our list. And so, we're beginning to see this worldwide process of cooperation and with individual governments doing their own work to identify people who might do evil things to the rest of the civilized world.

Question: Mr. Secretary (inaudible) when you are talking about (inaudible) exactly or other names?

Secretary O'Neil: No, we had a long list of names, I forgot, I think there was six. I think six names that were forthcoming from the UK. (Some were IRA.) That's right. We've had, you know, we're seeing now other nations are adding to the list for everybody to know about in the world. I think this is a very favorable development.

Question: In a comment to the listing process of suspects of terrorist financing, does it bother you that you just adopt a list of some other country and you just add it to your main list. I understand your list is more stringent as far as criteria of identifying people suspected of terrorist actions. Does it bother you in any way that they just keep (inaudible) lists on top of one another?

Secretary O'Neil: Well, I'll tell what we're doing, we're not just putting it on the computer and sending it out. When we get a list from other governments we ask them for evidence as other governments have asked us for evidence. And to the limit of our ability and to the limit of their ability they've been very forthcoming in saying that these are the evidence that we have for these names and we believe that these governments are operating in good faith and that they are not frivolous designations.

Question: Are you satisfied with the extensive money laundering measures already being implemented in Saudi Arabia especially after the recent Hajj and this is the large season for collection of Islamic charities? And also this (inaudible).

Secretary O'Neil: First as a general point I would say that the government of Saudi Arabia has been very good in its cooperation with us on these subjects. In a broader sense I think the whole world is working on the issue of money laundering and this is a subject that's been going on for a very long time. I think in all civilized nations there's an alarm and a distress about the drug trade and the money laundering that surrounds the drug trade. I think it's very difficult to separate the flow of funds that are related to illegal activities like the drug trade and other things that are oppressive to the better human spirit. And I don't think anyone including the US has designed a system that captures all of the money laundering activity and all of the drug trade. We don't really know how to do it. We're learning together how to think about this and how to learn from each other's ideas about how to do a more refined job of stopping the assault on not just our adult population but our child population which is subjected to drug usage and again I think that one of the things important about this trip is to be engaged with the governments of the nations we're visiting in the Gulf to learn from them what they are doing and the ideas they have because I have no doubt at all that especially with the strong traditions in the Gulf that the resentment about creating victims of drugs and victims of terrorism is as strong here as it is any place in the world.

Question: Will the US (inaudible) monitoring Islamic charities?

Secretary O'Neil: Well, I don't think so. Let me talk to the issue of charities again in the broadest sense. In the United States we have a very strong tradition of charitable giving. Our people give billions of dollars every year to help people who have nothing or who don't have very much. For education, for healthcare, for housing, for all the human needs that are unmet. And so we believe very much in charitable giving. We have a registration system in the United States much like what you have here that requires charitable organizations to let the government know of their existence and then they get a special a tax form.

The last thing we want to do in the world is dampen the spirit of charitable giving. We think this is a most important human dimension of helping those who don't have anything. Now, at the same time we want to work -- we are working -- we want to work with nations around the world with a focus on finding cases where legitimate important aspects of our society are being used for purposes they weren't intended for. I don't know of any one -- I'm sure there's no one here, I guarantee you there's no one in the United States -- who gives charitable money who wants it to be used for evil purposes. It's a universal perspective. But we have evidence in our own territory-and you gave me an example of the Holy Land Foundation-of funds given with the greatest intentions and benevolence being diverted to support terrorist activity. We want to make sure that terrorists don't get money. And so wherever we find that terrorists are giving money through legitimate banking systems, through hawalas, through whatever device, that all the peoples of the world who believe in the aspirations of a positive civilization work together to make sure that our legitimate institutions are not contaminated by terrorists.

Question: There seems to be a US criteria, HAMAS and Jihad for example, on what would be considered terrorist organizations and if charities funding them they would be funding a terrorist organization. Now in the Gulf, not only in Saudi Arabia, you'll find a lot of people think that HAMAS and Jihad are not terrorist. How do you resolve that with the governments like if you have evidence that you have a certain charity in Saudi Arabia in UAE, they are funding HAMAS. How do you resolve that? Would they agree, do they agree with your criteria?

Secretary O'Neil: Well, again, I think the focus needs to be on working backward from terrorist activity. The complication is that this is we need to make life so financially difficult for terrorists that it's very hard for them to do evil things. And in order to do that our focus needs to be on getting money sources that flow to them. I think that you don't begin with a general indictment of an institution. You look at where money is coming from. And if in tracing money backwards you find that it's coming from a particular institution I think you don't begin by saying the whole institution is a problem unless you find that there's knowledge at the top of the institution. But it doesn't mean that because you think that say, the Catholic Church is a wonderful organization if you find some little part of it someplace that's providing terrorist financing without the leadership knowing it, you don't contend the whole institution is bad, but it doesn't keep you from saying this part of the organization is doing bad things. And so I think we need to be precise in our language and in our designation and so you know when we've made some recent designations, we make designations of sub units, not of broad scale units. We try to put our attack directly where we have knowledge that people knew what they were doing and provided money to terrorists. That's our objective. So that you know for example we find in our own banks, when we find money laundering going on in one of our major banks we don't indict the whole bank. Maybe we don't indict even the bank even at the small unit level if they are an innocent victim of people who are doing this illegal activity; we go after the people. But it doesn't keep us from asking the financial institutions to help us. So we ask the financial institutions please help us. We're asking the charitable institutions please help us. It's in your interest. It's in our interest together that terrorists not get money. So it's not that we're wanting to assault the legitimate institutions of society. We're wanting to work with the legitimate institutions of society because we believe they share the same goals that we have.

Question: But what I mean is the recipients. There's a difference in identifying the recipients. Are they terrorists groups or are they not. And this is like one issue that there is obviously a difference. How do you resolve that difference?

Secretary O'Neil: Well, I think you can tell a terrorist by the acts they commit. I mean, if you want to go and look at people being killed in the street, innocent people being killed in the street, I mean if you went to look at the people who piloted the airplane, were they terrorists? I would say they were terrorists. And then when you trace back and find out where they got their money, ( inaudible) well, we're trying to find clear cut cases because it's our purpose, I think, a shared purpose for the world to stamp out terrorism. That's the shared purpose. It's not to make life miserable for the legitimate institutions of the world. It's to get at terrorists. And knowingly giving money to terrorists we think is a terrorist act. If you fund terrorism, if you, if you know someone is going to go and use your money to create a weapon of mass destruction, that's complicity. And that's support. And that's unforgivable.

Question: But do you find the problem, is that a problem that you're facing now?

Secretary O'Neil: It's not so easy. If we all knew how to do this we would have finished it yesterday afternoon.

Question: Your Excellency, you just talked in the beginning about the cooperation with SAMA about transferring the money to abroad to some institutions. First of all, we want to know what kind of cooperation can we expect in the future, new stages that are going to happen. And if there's any illegal offices still working now from Saudi Arabia, what's the Saudi government promise you to stop this kind of activity?

Secretary O'Neil: Now first, to the last part of your question, I tell you what, I have a great deal of confidence that if the governmental people in Saudi Arabia had knowledge of people that were providing assistance to terrorists that they would stop it immediately. I don't have any doubt that the people of Saudi Arabia are every bit of as dedicated to the proposition of stamping out terrorism as any other people in the world. I have no doubt at all. Going forward, I think we all, I think as I've talked to people around the world and I have now talked to people from I think in a many different places, maybe talked to representatives of almost every nation in the world, I find all of them are dedicated to the proposition of using their own energy and conviction to work on this problem. And I have to tell you that I wish I could say that I though it would be over shortly. I don't think so. And I think that there are enough people of ill will and evil intent out there that the world is going to have to be continuously vigilant. It's not something that we're going to be able to declare a victory and then we can all go on to something else. We're going to have to keep working on this problem individually and together and learning from each other so that we can relieve our peoples everywhere in the world from the burden of worrying about how their life's going to end tomorrow.

Question: On the oil initiative, Your Excellency, been announced two days ago that the postponement of the letters of agreement with the Saudi officials negotiating in Los Angeles and the consortia, what's your reaction to that? Do you see a link between (inaudible) and the 11th of September, 911, or back down because of some disagreements of other issues?

Secretary O'Neil: You know I... I'm tempted to... I guess I will tell you. I attribute it to bureaucratic process. Which means that when governments work on those kinds of things the propensity to talk is very strong. And to conclude is not so strong. But I have a great deal of confidence that the work will go on and will be concluded in a good time. Again, let me say what I said at the beginning: I found the engagement with the government people very, very cooperative and strong, and the same on both sides to commitment of working together and the continuing ongoing strong relationship between our peoples. In fact even adding the energy to the contact we've had in the sphere of economics and trade and a sharing of insight and information about economic development. We've spent some time this morning talking about economic development in the rest of the world. I think it's really noteworthy. What I said, that I saw the finance minister in Japan, I think it's very noteworthy that the co-chairs of the conference of Japan included the United States and Saudi Arabia. This is co-chairs for the Afghan fundraising initiative. I think this is a really significant thing and it shows that we are working together not only on a bi-lateral basis but on things that are important to the whole world in a broader setting. And I think it's symbolic and practical evidence at the same time of our strong and ongoing friendship and dedication of working together.

Question: Can you report to us how much progress you've made in the fighting terrorism aspect in this visit with the Saudis, like is there something you can report to us?

Secretary O'Neil: Well, you know I think we made, let me say for myself, I learned a lot. You know, just listening to the work that's being done and the attitude, and the explanation of how Islamic banks work is a degree of very helpful knowledge that we can take back with us and help to explain to the rest of the world how some of these things work because they are a mystery. To lots of the world you may not appreciate, but to lots of the world these things are a mystery and I think when you take away the mystery it's very clear that these are a legitimate ways to do business. So I think this is a very important thing for us that we came and we learned a lot. And I think we'll go away with a strong degree of confidence that we are absolutely together in our determination that we individually and together will work on this problem of illegal activities and particularly the terrorist aspect of flows of funds to people that want to do harm to innocent people in the world.

I think it's the same in Bahrain and it's the same in Kuwait, and I'm sure we will find the same tomorrow in the UAE and you know it's what I found in talking about these same subjects in Japan. You may have a feeling that, because you only see it from your point of view, the US being interested in this issue only here. I've had these conversations now and engaged in ones with leaders everyplace in the world since September the 1lth, I mentioned the meeting with the UK finance minister. It was the first subject on our agenda, with the UK. It was the first subject on our agenda with the members of the so-called G7 group. You know, including with the Russians, it's interesting to find we're working with the Russians on these same issues.

Question: Are the Saudis going to come out with their own list?

Secretary O'Neil: Well I don't know, we will see. Maybe, maybe they will. I think it's less important whether they come up with their own list than it is important by their own declaration that they will pursue these issues and that they will be a world leader in assuring that terrorist finance doesn't happen within the boundaries of Saudi Arabia. Just as we will do our level best to assure in the United States for the benefit of people other places in the world. As I said earlier I think this is a very important thing. Terrorist can and do attack anywhere. This is not something for one country. This is something for the whole world to be concerned about to work on together.

Thank you (inaudible)

Secretary O'Neil: Thank you

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