From a May 14th, 2003, Press Briefing with Ari Fleischer, in the wake of a May 12th terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia:
Q What about the comments this morning by Robert Jordan, the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia? He said that the United States tried futilely to get the Saudis to provide more protection to those residential compounds.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there are two things at play in what's happening now in Saudi Arabia. On the broad sense, we continue to be pleased with the cooperation we have had from Saudi Arabia in the ongoing war against terrorism and the actions they have taken, particularly since September 11th.
As with many countries around the world, the fact is that Saudi Arabia must deal with the fact that it has terrorists inside its own country. And their presence is as much a threat to Saudi Arabia as it is to Americans and others who live and work in Saudi Arabia. These bombings killed not just Americans, but Saudis, as well. So the Ambassador pointed out one of the items that is going to be investigated in terms of what took place, how it took place, what actions could have led up to this.
And you may want to note a statement that was made by the Saudi Foreign Minister at a news conference just a little while ago where he said -- and I quote him now -- "The fact that the terrorism happened is an indication of shortcomings, and we have to learn from our mistakes and seek to improve our performance in this respect." And that was a statement made by Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister today.
Q Is the United States reassessing its entire relationship with Saudi Arabia?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the United States continues to have strong relations with Saudi Arabia. The one thing the terrorists want more than anything else is to be able to attack the United States, to attack others in the region, and force us into changes in our policies. That will not happen.
What a charade!
Try passing out Bibles in the Kingdom, and see what happens to you. But, the Kingdom can't stop the terrorists.
Q The government of Saudi Arabia said it will go after these suspects, these terrorists. But at the same time, you've got three clerics who put out a fatwa, a religious warning urging believers to give them harbor. Is this a problem that the United States has to deal with, as we deal with the government of Saudi Arabia?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I say that the Saudi Arabians have to deal with the fact that there is terror found inside their country. These are important issues that Saudi Arabia has been addressing and must continue to address. And we want to work with them to address these.
Again, there is NO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM in Saudi Arabia. Those fatwas have to have the blessing of someone in the Royal family, or those clerics aren't going to be making them.
Q Ari, an FBI official says that the investigative team that the U.S. is sending to Saudi Arabia is held up now in Germany, that they haven't been given permission by the Saudi government to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I just got a report on that. I don't know -- it's not a question of permission from the Saudis, this deals with clearance times, as well as flight crew requirements for the amount of time they're allowed to fly. This is the explanation I literally just got before I came here, from the FBI. And so we do expect that the plane will be there tomorrow.
Q So they have been given all necessary clearances --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any problems on the clearance front. There was a window of clearance where they were allowed to come in. And then, as a result of the flight times, the amount of time a crew can actually operate an aircraft, it didn't coincide. That's the explanation I literally just received before I came here.
Q And the Associated Press was reporting also that the number of FBI investigators that were part of that team was scaled back because of Saudi concerns about a large American presence.
MR. FLEISCHER: I asked about that this morning, and I was told by the FBI that's not the case. There is an assessment team that is en route, and the assessment team includes bomb technicians, evidence response teams, intelligence officials from counterterrorism. Their purpose is to go in, work with Saudi authorities, work with the Americans there, and then the assessment team will make a fuller report about what next is required.
Q It sounds, by saying that Saudi Arabia must deal with the fact that there's terrorism in their own country, you're saying pretty loud and clear that they haven't done so.
Exactly. The facts are pretty self-explanatory, and the story they tell is not the one the Bush Administration wants told, so here we're getting spin.
MR. FLEISCHER: No. No, but around the world, nations are reacting to the threat of terrorism. And certainly, once a nation is victimized by terrorism, it does have the effect of making that nation reassess and reexamine everything it had done up to that point. Obviously, until they were hit, they thought what they were doing may have been at a sufficient level.
We're constantly working with nations around the world, including Saudi Arabia, to urge them to focus on the threat, to see what different things can be done. We're constantly working with nations around the world, for example, on the war on terrorism financing. In the case of Saudi Arabia, it's worth noting that it was in 1997 -- not until 1997, but the beginning of 1997 -- that the FBI was able to open up an office inside Saudi Arabia. That office is up and running. It's a liaison office. It works on evidence-sharing, on intelligence-sharing, on liaison and cooperation with Saudi officials. And that has grown in terms of our cooperation with the Saudis and their cooperation with us since 1997.
But, yes, we do make the point that it is important for Saudi Arabia to recognize that there is terrorism inside the country and it needs to be confronted. And we stand there as their allies to help them confront it.
No -- we stand there as their dupes, and suffer from it.
Sure, some Saudis die as victims of the attack -- Saudis also die as perpetrators of the attack.
And, I'm sure the royal family is really broken up about it all.
Q But Saudi Arabia is a special case because it is the home of so much extremism and the peddling of extremism and the funding of extremism by members of the government. There are a lot of analysts of this relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia who have been saying this is a devil's bargain that has gone on for too long. Is that the kind of thing the President wants to see, the end of funding and support for extremism in Saudi Arabia?
That's a nice way of putting it: "devil's bargain".
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think every nation faces its own individual or unique series of threats and circumstances from terrorists within. Since some nations, such as the United States, -- we work very hard, it appears to be minimal, but we had, of course, the indictments up in the Buffalo area recently. Other nations in the Middle East have much deeper internal problems that they need to confront. Yemen is a nation that is working very hard. They have difficult internal circumstances that they are working to confront.
And so I think you can go across the region -- Pakistan is another country that has a variety of problems that President Musharraf is facing. And so, from country to country, you will see different levels of activism from within that is terrorist in nature. What's important now is that Saudi Arabia continue its work with us -- which has been good work, which has been cooperative work -- to confront the threat from within Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are the target of it, as well. In addition to the Westerners who are there, the Saudis, themselves, are the targets of these terrorists.
Q All right. So the President is confident that the House of Saud, governing that country the way it has been, is capable of taking on this problem?
No calls for human rights, or for democratization -- we are happy with the status quo.
MR. FLEISCHER: We are. The President, particularly working with the Crown Prince, does have confidence that the Saudis will face this. But this is a matter of the utmost importance that Saudi Arabia is going to look at. And I draw your attention to the remarks by the Foreign Minister today. Those are important remarks to hear from a Saudi Foreign Minister at a news conference today where he publicly acknowledged these shortcomings -- he, the Foreign Minister, himself, in public.
You also look at what the Saudi Arabians did on May 6th, in terms of the seizure of the explosives that were found near one of these compounds. You also look at the actions they have taken on the financing front, where you see some successes. But, yes, we're going to continue to push Saudi Arabia to work with us to do more, and that's cooperative.
Q What more can they do -- devote more resources?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the financial front, we're always working with different nations. That's a very difficult challenge, particularly in areas where they don't have a banking system that is similar to ours, with all the prevalence of electronic banking, to do more work. We've been satisfied on the evidence and the information-sharing. But there are additional things that can be done and we'll continue to work with these nations. And typically, they involved the rounding up of people in various countries who we think are tied to terrorism.
Q Will the FBI be in charge of the investigation in Saudi Arabia?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard who will be "in charge." Obviously, this took place in Saudi country, so I have not heard who is in charge.
But how is it that they have our government saying this, and us not crying bloody murder?
And, how is this tied to the UK's BAE scandal?
Stay tuned for Part 4!