- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

The Bush administration is planning to send a team of technical experts from the Treasury Department to Saudi Arabia this month to assist Riyadh in tracking and freezing bank accounts and other entities suspected of being linked to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, according to U.S. officials.
The Treasury Department is trying to plug holes in a system it helped create nearly 30 years ago. As recently as 1996, U.S. contractors had helped monitor and assess Saudi financial-regulatory structures for the royal family, in an arrangement wholly separate from the U.S. Embassy's operations in Riyadh, according to Robert Pelletreau, an assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs under President Clinton.
One senior State Department official said that the Saudis and other Gulf states had asked for an expert delegation, scheduled to be led by the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, for "technical assistance." This official stressed that the delegation was not meant to garner more cooperation from the Saudis, but rather to answer their technical questions.
"We think a Treasury team is the best arbiter to tell them what they are capable of doing. There is a significant level of support for this right now," another State Department official said yesterday. "They basically came and said there are some things we are capable of doing and some things we are not."
Since Sept. 11, the State Department and Treasury have zeroed in on financial links from friendly Arab states to the bin Laden terror operation. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell raised these connections in talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal on Sept. 18 in Washington. In subsequent meetings between Saudi and U.S. financial experts, Treasury officials handed over a list of specific bank accounts, some of which were from the National Commercial Bank, Saudi Arabia's largest bank, and the Faisal al-Islamic bank.
Since then, State Department and Saudi officials have said they have made progress in freezing the accounts in question. The Washington Times reported yesterday Saudi diplomat Jaafar Allagany as saying his country has "followed the money" until it came to the United States.
Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns told a House panel, the Saudis are "beginning to make an effort with regard to financial assets."
When the U.S. delegation arrives later this month in Saudi Arabia, it will not be the first time U.S. officials have assisted the Saudis with their government's financial system.
Edward Walker, former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs and current executive director of the Middle East Institute, said that the United States had "built the whole damn financial system for Saudi Arabia," in an interview Tuesday.
Mr. Pelletreau, who also ran the State Department's Middle East portfolio under President Clinton, said in an interview Tuesday, "The United States was pretty instrumental in helping the Saudis set up their banking system. This goes back to the early '70s. We had people from the Department of Treasury who went to Saudi Arabia to train them."
Despite the U.S. role in establishing much of the modern Saudi financial bureaucracy, Mr. Pelletreau does not think this would have translated into access for specific bank accounts.

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