When Congress unaninmously passed a bill last Friday known as “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act,” or JASTA, allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts, there was confusion whether Obama would still veto said bill, as he had threatened to previously, even though by sheer numbers Obama’s veto may be overruled, leaving him hanging and appearing to support a Saudi position over that of the US people. Then on Monday we got the answer when White House press secretary Josh Earnest announced that Obama would still veto said bill. “That is still the plan,” Earnest said. “The president does intend to veto this legislation.”
The Saudis, however, are not taking any chances, and are back to engaging in the same verbal warnings they unleashed in April of this year, when they suggested passage of the law would force the kingdom to sell its US-denominated reserves: threats.
As Reuters reports, a senior Saudi policy adviser on Wednesday condemned a U.S. bill that would allow families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue the kingdom for damages, “warning it would stoke instability and extremism.” In other words, if Obama fails too stop a law which everyone in Congress voted for, the US would suffer.
“This legislation sets a dangerous precedent in the field of international relations,” Abdullah Al al-Sheikh was quoted as saying by state news agency SPA. Al al-Sheikh is the speaker of the Shura Council, an appointed body that debates new laws and advises the government on policy.
“(The bill risks) triggering chaos and instability in international relations and might contribute to supporting extremism, which is under intellectual siege, as the new legislation offers extremists a new pretext to lure youths to their extremist thoughts,” al-Sheikh added without elaborating.
JASTA would remove sovereign immunity, preventing lawsuits against governments, for countries found to be involved in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on May 2 that the kingdom had warned the United States that the proposed law would erode global investor confidence in America.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who crashed airliners in New York, outside Washington and in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001 were Saudi nationals; furthermore the recently released formerly classified “28 pages” showed a clear connection between Saudi officials and events on Sept 11, but the Saudi government has strongly denied responsibility and has lobbied against the bill.
That has not stopped some members of Congress from becoming increasingly vocal in criticizing Saudi Arabia, long a U.S. ally and trade partner.
A bigger question is whether the Saudis have backed off their previous threat to dump US Treasuries in case Obama fails to veto a bill which all of America wants passed; needless to say Obama finds himself in a rather unpleasant situation – deciding how to appease a country which has openly threatened the US if it does not get its way, potentially roiling the bond market at a very sensitive time, and at the same time avoiding to appear like a traitor to an entire nation with just a few months left in his term.