In an appearance on CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Saudi foreign policy adviser Adel Al-Jubeir discussed an April 12 Newsweek article by Michael Isikoff that alleges “suspicious” Saudi financial transactions; OPEC’s decision to cut production, and rising US gas prices; and the detention of Saudi reformers which was condemned by Secretary of State Powell recently.[full transcript of interview]
Al-Jubeir refutes Newsweek story about “suspicious” Saudi financial transactions
Blitzer began the interview by reading an excerpt of the Newsweek article: “A federal investigation into the bank accounts of the Saudi Embassy in Washington has identified more than $27 million in “suspicious” transactions – including hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Muslim charities, and to clerics and Saudi students who are being scrutinized for possible links to terrorist activity, according to government documents obtained by Newsweek.”
Al-Jubeir replied that Newsweek’s allegations were “absolutely” not true. “We are aware of the investigation, in fact we’re working with the US government on it. We have provided them with a list of all the students in the US who receive money from Saudi Arabia, as well as all the support Saudi Arabia has given to various institutions in the US, not only over the past two years but over the past 20 years. We want to know if any of them are not legitimate so we can take action.”
Al-Jubeir pointed out that the investigation into Saudi funds has been going on for nine months. “There was absolutely nothing found that was suspicious on the part of the US, either the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Treasury Department officials, and that’s also pointed out in the Newsweek story.”
“Anything that involves Saudi Arabia is automatically suspicious. I don’t believe that this is fair, I don’t believe that this is accurate. We have taken tremendous steps in terms of regulating charities, in terms of freezing bank accounts, in terms of putting in place financial control mechanisms. We’ve had international institutions audit our systems, we’ve gotten a clean bill of health in this area. And yet the suspicions continue to linger,” he remarked.
On the Newsweek story, Al-Jubeir commented, “It’s unfortunate that people tend to sensationalize things.” Al-Jubeir noted that Isikoff previously wrote a story for Newsweek that accused an individual, Omar al-Bayoumi, of being a Saudi intelligence agent. The item turned out to be false, Al-Jubeir said.
Al-Jubeir also said that Riggs Bank did not drop the Saudi Embassy as a customer, as Isikoff reported in his article. “I would argue that it was the other way around. We had some issues with the bank that pertained to loans and lines of credit, and the ambassador made the decision to terminate the relationship.”
Asked about Richard Clarke’s comment during his 9/11 Commission hearing that Saudi Arabia did not cooperate significantly in the fight against terror until the May bombings in Riyadh, Al-Jubeir replied that Clarke is “to a large extent” right. “But that applies to any government in the world. Our people argued the US government didn’t cooperate with us in the hunt for bin Laden until after 9/11.”
High U.S. gas prices are the fault of refining capacity, not OPEC production cuts, Al-Jubeir says
Blitzer inquired about OPEC’s decision to cut production and rising gasoline prices in the US. OPEC decided to cut back because there was a “slight surplus,” Al-Jubeir said.
Al-Jubeir said the main reason for high gas prices in the US was a lack of refining capacity in the US, not a cut in oil production. “There has not been a refinery built in America in the last 20 years. So if you produce more crude oil but you can’t refine it, it’s not going to translate into gasoline. And that’s why you had a run-up in the price of gasoline this year,” he said.
The Saudi spokesman warned that there could be another gas shortage next year if the problem of the refining capacity is not dealt with.
He noted that it is difficult to sell gasoline in the US market because the US has around four dozen different formulas for gasoline, which confuses the seller. “Unless the US begins to simplify this area, and unless the US deals with its refining shortage, there will always be a problem with gasoline,” Al-Jubeir said.
Reformers were detained for including people’s names on a petition against their will
Al-Jubeir also discussed the steps his country is taking towards democracy, including opening the press, holding municipal elections and the establishment of human rights organizations. On the issue of the detention of Saudi reformers – which Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized on a recent trip to Saudi Arabia – Al-Jubeir noted, “What people don’t realize is they were detained because they submitted petitions with names on it of people who did not want to have their names on it. When those people complained and the government brought them (the detainees in question) in for questioning, and asked them to make a promise that they would not put peoples’ names on petitions without their permission. Those that did were released, and those that didn’t were not. I think we may have one or two that are still in custody. ”