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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Saudis Refuse Freeze On Bank Accounts

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia is balking at American requests to freeze the bank accounts of those the United States says are linked to terrorism, Saudi and American officials said Monday. The Saudis' hesitancy has prompted the U.S. government to prepare to send a delegation to the kingdom to discuss the standoff.

The delegation -- from the State Department, the Treasury Department and the National Security Council -- would probably be led by Ryan Crocker, a deputy assistant secretary of state, and its task would be to persuade senior Saudi officials to "give the green light" on financial cooperation, a U.S. official said.

In an interview Monday, a senior Saudi official said American requests to freeze bank accounts here had not been substantiated by proof that the individuals and businesses named had any link to terrorism.

"This is the problem between us and the Americans," the Saudi official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "When they ask us to do something, we say, 'Give us the evidence.' That's when they accuse us of helping the terrorists." Such blunt language, and the disclosure of plans to dispatch the U.S. team to Riyadh, laid bare some of the strains that continue to divide the two countries, even as both have pledged to work closely together in what the United States calls the war on terrorism.

On strictly criminal matters, U.S. officials have said, representatives of the FBI in Saudi Arabia have won unprecedented cooperation from counterparts at the Interior Ministry. The two sides, they said, have been meeting almost every day to share information about terrorist suspects, including the 15 Saudis who were among the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks.

But on financial matters, both the Saudis and Americans say, progress has been much slower. A U.S. official said the Saudi government had instructed banks to identify accounts held by individuals and organizations named by the United States, but the official said he did not know of cases in which funds had actually been frozen, despite American requests.

The countries seem at pains to protect what both see as an important and sensitive relationship. A senior U.S. Treasury Department official said, "We have had numerous discussions with our counterparts in Saudi Arabia. No senior official from Saudi Arabia has asked us for information. We will be happy to provide any information they request."

In an interview last week, the foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, defended what he called the kingdom's cautious, go-slow approach, particularly when the American requests touched on Islamic charities said to have channeled money to terrorist organizations.

"I don't think the intent was to make a list that would be frozen without proof," he said. "We have urged on everybody concerned that when you're talking about financial assets and banks and organizations that are dealing with humanitarian affairs, one must be careful not to do damage to institutions unjustly.

"It behooves us that sound institutions not get harmed by mistaken identities, or that humanitarian organizations that are doing a good service not be tarnished, because God knows that humanitarian efforts are needed direly. We don't want to do damage to these institutions without having the facts," al-Faisal said.