Saudis Issue Warning To US Over 9/11 Bill

Saudi Arabia has issued a warning to the US, threatening the Obama administration and members of Congress with promises to “sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom,” if the so-called 9/11 bill is passed, reported the New York Times. The bill would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any major role it is found to have played in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

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Administration officials and congressional aides say the Obama camp has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage following periods of intense discussions about the Saudi warning to the US in recent weeks involving lawmakers, officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. According to the report, the officials are concerned with a host of economic and diplomatic setbacks the legislation has the potential to cause.

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“Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts.”

According to a report published Sunday by the Financial Times, this newest proposed legislation is actually just one more point of major friction between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The kingdom’s recent warning to the US comes just before President Obama is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia Wednesday and amid pressure for the U.S. to take a harder stance against Iran.

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“Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week has prompted a new push to release the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission report that deal with the role of foreign government officials and have been kept secret by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.”

The 9/11 bill is the result of a bipartisan effort involving Democratic senator Chuck Schumer and Republican John Corwyn. It would effectively remove all immunity from lawsuits for foreign government officials who are proven to have been involved in the terror attacks. Although the 9/11 bill has been proposed three times in the past, its growing support this year is thought to be largely responsible for Saudi Arabia’s latest warning to the US.

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In recent months, Secretary of State John Kerry has renounced the bill, saying it would “create a terrible precedent” for lawsuits against America and could take away our sovereign immunity. An unnamed “senior US official” also told the Financial Times that the Obama administration has “serious concerns over the potential negative implications for US interests and hopes to “engage with the Congress further on that discussion.”

Still, several noted economists who expressed early doubt that the Saudis would actually follow through on the threats made during the kingdom’s recent warning to the US might be on to something. The New York Times reported that several economic experts say it would be “difficult to execute” a selloff of that magnitude and the move could even wind up “crippling” Saudi Arabia’s economy.

In the wake of these reports, a source close to the Saudi government has refuted the claims, saying Mr. Jubeir’s comments were “taken out of context” in order to create publicity before President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia later this week.

[Photo by: Olivier Douliery-Pool / Getty Images]