Following Saudi Arabia’s condemnation over 9/11 bill, US lawmakers expressed doubts on Thursday about Sept. 11 legislation they forced on President Barack Obama, saying the new law allowing lawsuits against Saudi Arabia could be narrowed to ease concerns about its effect on Americans abroad.
A day after a rare overwhelming rejection of a presidential veto, the first during Obama’s eight years in the White House, the Republican leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives opened the door to fixing the law as they blamed the Democratic president for not consulting them adequately.
“I do think it is worth further discussing,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, acknowledging that there could be “potential consequences” of the Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, known as JASTA.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress might have to “fix” the legislation to protect US troops in particular. Ryan did not give a time frame, but Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he thought JASTA could be addressed in Congress’ “lame-duck” session after the Nov. 8 election.
The law grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on US soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government. Riyadh denies longstanding suspicions that it backed the hijackers who attacked the United States in 2001.
Saudi Arabia on Thursday warned Thursday of “disastrous consequences” from a United States law allowing 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom, in a major spike in tension between the longstanding allies.
A Saudi foreign ministry source on Thursday called on the US Congress “to take the necessary measures to counter the disastrous and dangerous consequences” of the law.
The unnamed spokesman, cited by the official Saudi Press Agency, said the law is “a source of great worry.” This law “weakens the immunity of states”, and will have a negative impact on all countries “including the United States,” the Saudi spokesman said, expressing hope that “wisdom will prevail.”
In opposing the law, Obama said it would harm US interests by undermining the principle of sovereign immunity, opening up the US to private lawsuits over its military missions abroad.
The erosion of sovereign immunity is also a concern among the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Saudi Arabia is the most powerful member. Saudi Arabia’s Gulf allies have lined up beside Riyadh to criticize the law.
Analysts earlier Thursday warned that Saudi Arabia could reduce valuable security and intelligence cooperation with longstanding ally Washington after the Congressional “stab in the back.” Cutting such cooperation is among the options available to Riyadh, the analysts said.