[What follows is the text of an interview by Paul Gigot with The Wall Street Journal's columnist Bret Stephens broadcast on Sunday 12 July on FOX News Channel. I am grateful to Frank Duggan for drawing it to my attention.]
Gigot: All right. Still ahead, it's under fire for the Deepwater drilling disaster, but there may be an even better reason to dislike BP. Did the oil giant profit from the Lockerbie bomber's release? The answer when we come back.
Gigot: Well, BP has come under blistering criticism in recent months as oil from its Deepwater Horizon well continues to spill into the Gulf of Mexico. But Wall Street Journal foreign-affairs columnist Bret Stephens says there may be even better reason to dislike the oil giant, as evidence grows that BP profited from last summer's release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. Bret joins us now.
So Bret, what's the connection between BP and the release of Megrahi?
Stephens: Well, just a few days ago, the Libyan government announced BP would begin deepwater drilling in its--
Gigot: Off of Libya.
Stephens: Off of the Libyan coast.
Gigot: Notwithstanding the Gulf of Mexico?
Stephens: Definitely notwithstanding the Gulf of Mexico. And in fact, that Libya might take a strategic stake in BP. Now, this follows news also in recent days that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi--the only man convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, who was released last year on the compassionate grounds that he only had a few months to live, and is still alive--might, in fact, live another 10 or 20 years. That was a statement by a doctor who offered the three-month prognosis but now says that he more or less gave that prognosis because he thought it could be, quote, "sort of justified."
Gigot: Well, let's take this in turn. This offshore drilling in Libya is very big, something like a $900 million project. So it's a very big contract. BP itself said it was something like the equivalent of 2,000 blocks, exploration blocks in the Gulf of Mexico.
Stephens: Oh, it's absolutely enormous, because these are oil blocks right off the coast, which Libya itself doesn't have the--the Libyan oil company doesn't have the technology to explore. But they need a big Western oil company that can do the kind of deepwater drilling. And the question is, how did BP get itself to get these contracts?
Gigot: Well, that is the question, because the British deny any quid pro quo between the release of Megrahi and the contracts. BP denies it, I'm sure. So what's the evidence?
Stephens: Well, look, in 2004, when Gadhafi came in from the cold, then--
Gigot: Gave up his nuclear program.
Stephens: Gave up his nuclear program.
Gigot: Said he wanted to normalize relations.
Stephens: Tony Blair paid a number of--
Gigot: Former British prime minister.
Stephens: Former British prime minister, paid a number of visits. And on his second visit, in 2007, BP and the Libyan government inked an oil-exploration deal. But there was a hiccup. The Libyans were insisting on what they call a prisoner transfer agreement between the two countries, which sounds like, you know, one of these vanilla agreements that two countries reach. But the man that was plainly in question in any kind of prisoner transfer agreement was Megrahi, the guy who was then in a Scottish jail.
So they made this agreement, and then the UK took its time with this prisoner transfer agreement. So the Libyan government starting saying, Well, we're not so sure we're going to go ahead with the BP deal. At this point, we know--BP has admitted that it raised the issue of the prisoner transfer agreement with the then Labour government in Britain. It had a special adviser who was a former MI6 intelligence official, who was well connected with Labour Party officials, and who also raised the subject of the prisoner transfer agreement. Lo and behold, at the end of 2007, the UK finally gets around to signing--to signing this agreement, and it's at that point that the BP deal starts going forward.
Gigot: We also have a statement from Gadhafi's son, who has wanted to open up to the West, and is well-known in British circles that the oil contract was at issue.
Stephens: Yeah, no, it's clear both from what--not only from what the Libyans have said, Saif Gadhafi, but also from correspondence that was obtained by the London Sunday Times, in which then-Justice Minister Jack Straw writes to his Scottish counterparts, talking about the, quote, "overwhelming interests of the UK in getting this agreement passed." And it's funny. The Libyans kept dragging their heels all the way up until Megrahi was released.
Gigot: Here's a question, though: Why shouldn't Britain do this? I mean, it's in their national interest, obviously, to have oil exploration--a company do this. Megrahi is ill. We don't know how ill, that's true. And this is 20-some years ago. Here's the question: I mean, if Gadhafi wants to come in from the cold--maybe, shouldn't we just move on?
Stephens: I would say there are 270 reasons not to do that, and those are the 270 people who were murdered on Pan Am 103. I mean, there's no question, the oil companies go into all kinds of dangerous places with regimes that we don't necessarily like, which have spotty human-rights records. But Lockerbie is a case apart. And it's also in the UK's national interest to have good relations with the United States. This was a signal case in the war on terrorism, so there was a line to be drawn, and the British crossed it, in my mind.
Gigot: All right, Bret, thank you.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
Gigot: Just as a follow-up to that previous segment, we did ask BP for comment. They promised to get back to us but never did.