This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, June 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
JOHN GIBSON: Hi, everybody, this is THE BIG STORY. I'm John Gibson. If you take the Saudi terrorists at their words American Paul Johnson is alive, but the clock is winding down. The Lockheed Martin (search) employee is being held hostage somewhere in Saudi Arabia. Our embassy there says they will not negotiate. Johnson's family says he doesn't deserve to die...
Al Qaeda says release its prisoner and Paul Johnson goes free — its prisoners. The Saudis and the State Department say they'll do all they can to find Johnson except negotiate with the terrorists. Former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Richard Murphy, is here to talk about the situation. Ambassador, today's big question, what can the U.S. do to save Paul Johnson?
RICHARD MURPHY, FMR. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: It can help the Saudi Arabians in terms of intelligence. Now, they will be putting every resource possible at the disposal of the Saudi government to try to locate where he's held, but I think the position that's been stated by Riyadh, by Washington will remain constant. They will not negotiate with the terrorists, and I think you have to ask when you read the terms of the terrorists whether they want to negotiate, or are they simply saying that and want to have a victim.
GIBSON: What about actually helping militarily? What about American special ops troops operating inside Saudi Arabia? Will the Saudis allow that?
MURPHY: I would think if there was a chance that they could be of help, they would allow it, yes.
GIBSON: Are they resistant to outside help?
MURPHY: They have not been in the past, but they prefer not to have it discussed publicly if there is outside help.
GIBSON: What is the state of Al Qaeda (search) in Saudi Arabia?
MURPHY: Well, there are sympathizers. There's no question of that. The Saudis themselves ran a public opinion poll last year. I emphasize last year, which said that up to half the population might be sympathetic with the goals of doing something more to help the Palestinians and disliking the American actions in Iraq. That's - they've said that they feel, but they don't look for Al Qaeda to throw out the royal family and replace it.
GIBSON: But the royal family does feel under siege, and the kidnapping and threatened death of Paul Johnson is part of an effort to get to those people, the royal family?
GIBSON: How does that work? How does Paul Johnson's — if Paul Johnson is killed, how does that help Al Qaeda get to the royal family?
MURPHY: I think they may be operating under a very simplistic theory that one victim can increase the panic, the fear among the American community, the expatriate community, lead to a mass exodus. Then the Saudi royal family, which they argue is totally dependent on foreign support, which is not the case, but their assumption is that would bring the royal family down if the foreigners left the country.
GIBSON: If the foreigners leave the country, can — there's 35,000 Americans, as you explained, and other Western Europeans who help run the oil industry. Can the Saudis run their own industries without outside help?
MURPHY: They could keep the oil industry going at its present operations, yes. If you are talking about major expansion, high — new high-tech ideas, they would welcome foreigners, but they can maintain it.
GIBSON: Well, then what would be the point of Al Qaeda running the foreigners out? If it doesn't bring the oil industry to its knees and, therefore, put pressure on the Saudi royal family, what's the point?
MURPHY: Well, don't assume that your rationale analysis is their analysis. I say they are operating, I believe, on a very simplistic theory. Get rid of foreigners, that means foreign support is gone, that means the regime will fall.
GIBSON: How strong is the regime? Is it a house of cards?
MURPHY: I don't think so. No, I think they've shown their ability to whether crises over the years. This is a period of great stress, pressure on them, but they've learned over the years better to hang together than hang separately.
GIBSON: Do they — good analogy. Do they — would you take a 50-year bet on the Saudis? Will they be there 50 years from now?
MURPHY: Well, common critics of Saudi Arabia have been placing five year bets. In the 40 years that I have been in and out of Saudi Arabia that it couldn't last but another five years. Every five years that horizon goes out further.
GIBSON: So what do you think happens to Paul Johnson?
MURPHY: We certainly pray all of us for his safe release, but the conditions that the Al Qaeda or sympathizers have set, that his captors have set, don't encourage me because to me that says they don't want to negotiate themselves.
GIBSON: Does it sound like they want to stretch it out and use him as a publicity tool for longer than this three days?
MURPHY: That's a possibility, and that's certainly something that I think we would counsel to try to stretch it out and see what give there is.
GIBSON: Where do Al Qaeda sympathizers learn to be this cruel?
MURPHY: Some of them were trained certainly in Afghanistan, trained when Usama was operating freely in the eastern part of the country and trained in this exalted spirit that they are the only defenders of their faith and of their Islamic world. And that is — that inspires them to stop at nothing. They see themselves as oppressed by the West, oppressed by Christianity, by Judaism, and they are the ones that are going to defend the homeland.
GIBSON: Former ambassador of Saudi Arabia, Richard Murphy. Mr. Murphy, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
MURPHY: Thank you.
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