Friend or Foe?

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," June 15, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Are the Saudis doing enough to fight the funding of terror? If a report released by the Council on Foreign Relations is right, the answer is no. That report was released before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee this morning. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine is that committee’s chair and joins us now from the nation’s capital.

Senator, always a pleasure.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-MAINE: Good afternoon.

CAVUTO: So what is the deal? These guys say they are combating terror, but you say they are not.

COLLINS: Well, the Saudis do deserve credit for implementing some reforms, but what we find with the Saudis is it always seems to be one step forward and two back. The reforms look a lot stronger on paper than they are when they are actually implemented.

CAVUTO: But what would be — to stop them, Senator, from combating terror in our own homeland? After all, it threatens them. So why wouldn’t they be vigilant in combating it?

COLLINS: Since the bombings on their own soil, the Saudis have taken the war against terrorism much more seriously. But they still continue to export a radical form of Islam that preaches violence and intolerance. In addition, the Saudis have been very reluctant to publicly move against major figures in the country that are financing terrorism groups. And that is very disturbing.


CAVUTO: But Senator, they disagree with that. They claim that the Council on Foreign Relations report is, in their words, politically motivated, ill-informed and factually incorrect, that they have not been given their fair day. What do you say?

COLLINS: Well, I would point to the facts. And the facts say that the Saudis have failed to publicly prosecute a single individual for terrorist financing. They say that they have secretly gone after five individuals, but that isn’t the same and doesn’t have the same deterrent effect as publicly prosecuting those that are supporting Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

CAVUTO: But let’s talk about what the Saudis risk, that is the kingdom risks, if it doesn’t vigilantly go after these terrorists. It risks itself being annihilated. So self-preservation alone would tell you that.

I know some of these terrorist groups are some of the elite of the Saudi society, I realize that. But it is in their vested interest, is it not, to combat this? And so they counter with just that argument, that they — all deference to you, Senator, but they say this council report is just a political hatchet job.

COLLINS: Well, I just don’t think that is fair. It is a bipartisan report, it is based on the facts. But you have put your finger on what the Saudi dilemma is.

For years, the Saudis have played a dangerous double game. In order to preserve their own power, without undertaking the reforms that are necessary in the country, they have allowed hatred and intolerance to foment among the population. And the Saudis’ leaders’ recent inflammatory and anti-Semitic remarks, where they blamed the attacks in Riyadh and other areas of the country on Zionism, are just further illustrations of that.

CAVUTO: All right. Senator Collins, thank you very much. Always great having you on.

COLLINS: Thank you.

CAVUTO: Now the other side. Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg was not impressed at all with what he heard at today’s hearing. The New Jersey senator joins us now with his take.

Senator Lautenberg, good to have you.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG, D-N.J.: Hi. Neil, it may be a little bit of a stretch to say I wasn’t totally impressed. That wasn’t totally. But there are things that we need to do, and I think the witnesses confirm that.

CAVUTO: All right. What do we need do, first and foremost?

LAUTENBERG: Well, I think, first and foremost, we have to let the Saudis know that we will not tolerate the kind of behavior that they espouse, the kind of behavior that permits murderers and terrorists to get away, that permits funding of terrorist organizations. President Bush himself said money is the lifeblood of terrorism, and they permit to it go on knowingly. And their repudiations are tepid at best. And they have...

CAVUTO: But Senator, that is the point, then. If they are dancing around this issue, why not just tell the Saudis, you know what, that is it, game over, we are not your friends? Even put the pedal to the metal here and say we don’t even need your oil.

But we need their oil and we need their business. And they need our business. So aren’t we really in bed together and we can’t do that?

LAUTENBERG: Well, no. But we must do it, because otherwise...

CAVUTO: We must do what? We must do what, disband them?

LAUTENBERG: We must get them to understand that terrorism will ultimately envelop their total society. They see it now. I predict that if things go along as they were, there won’t be a Saudi Arabia existent as we presently know.

CAVUTO: But the truth is, Senator — I think you are right on the money that the truth is they don’t change to the degree we wish they would or could. So we continue to do business with them, mainly because we have to. At what point do you folks in the Senate just say enough is enough, we’re not dealing with you anymore?

LAUTENBERG: Well, I think, Neil, the point is a very good one. But to me, as we discussed in our committee this morning, when — if they want to dial 911 again, we have to say, there is no answer, the equipment is out of order. We are not going back to save their necks once again.

If they won’t tell us immediately who those are who killed our service people in the Khobar barracks or who cooperate with us in assaults on American citizens, forget it. We don’t need their blood money.

I must tell you, we’ll find a different way to get things done. But they have to understand they have a heck of a lot to lose if they don’t cooperate with us, renounce terrorism, cut off the flow of cash, and say, once and for all, we are with the democratic societies around the world, and we want to treat our people fairly. But not to blame, as you heard from Senator Collins, Zionism for the blow-up of the barracks. They’ve got to change their ways.

CAVUTO: Very quickly, sir, you are not holding your breath, are you?

LAUTENBERG: No, I’m not holding my breath.


LAUTENBERG: But we are getting a message out they have to stop preaching hate in their schoolrooms.

CAVUTO: All right. Senator Lautenberg, always a pleasure. Thank you, sir.

LAUTENBERG: Thanks, Neil.

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