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Saudi Arabia could aid talks with ISIS in hostage situations, says veteran negotiator

October 22nd, 2014
02:22 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

Saudi Arabia could have a role in hostage negotiations with ISIS militants, former U.N. hostage negotiator Giandomenico Picco told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

Picco conducted many high-profile negotiations in Lebanon that led to the release of several Western hostages in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

He told Amanpour that if asked to engage in open talks with the terrorist group, he would have a “conversation… with somebody in Saudi Arabia”.

The veteran diplomat also stressed that it was equally important to open a channel of communication with “a military arm in ISIS which is actually led by the deputy of President Saddam.”

He said he would attempt to focus negotiating efforts on that wing of the group rather than on the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who “may have been able to catch the hostages, but may be unable to negotiate their release.”

Governments tend to ask desperate families to stay quiet and trust them to get their loved ones back, but John Foley, whose son U.S. journalist James Foley was brutally murdered by ISIS in August, told Amanpour that he and his wife Diane Foley regret having remained silent.

“In this country, we feel that citizen pressure may have pushed our government to become more aggressive at a much earlier point in time, which may or may not have helped Jim and the other American and British, I feel, heroes and the hostages.”

ISIS is believed to be holding several Western hostages and its latest beheading video threatened the life of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig.

“I think in the future we would look to - enable the press to be a more cohesive force in aiding families such as ours, to exert pressure on our government to use any and all means at their disposal to try to obtain the release of these young aid workers and journalists who are fighting to protect the freedom of speech as well as mitigate unspeakable pain and suffering in these war-torn areas,” John Foley said.

While some Western governments will often pay ransoms to bring hostages home, it is U.S. policy that the government does not engage in such deals with terrorists. Foley believes that an international dialogue must be developed.

“This is not a United States problem or a British problem. This is a world community problem. And I'm well aware of the risks taken by men and women in our armed forces to bring these people home. But in the end, I feel that the small amount, relative small amount of money involved in a ransom certainly is justifiable to bring these wonderful people home.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Iraq • Journalism • Latest Episode • Syria
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