Tehran, Iran (Tasnim) – The White House threatened that US President Barack Obama might veto legislation to allow Americans to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for any role officials played in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“Given the long list of concerns I have expressed … it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the president would sign the bill as it’s currently drafted,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday.
Earnest argued the legislation could jeopardize US citizens overseas if other countries were to pass reciprocal laws that remove foreign immunity in their courts.
“It could put the United States and our taxpayers and our service members and our diplomats at significant risk if other countries were to adopt a similar law,” he said, the Hill reported.
“The whole notion of sovereign immunity is at stake.”
The legislation drew widespread attention after Saudi officials reportedly informed the Obama administration that they would sell off $750 billion in US assets if the bill became law, a threat that carries widespread economic consequences if the Saudis follow through.
Earnest appeared to strongly caution the Saudi government against taking such a step.
“A country with a modern and large economy like Saudi Arabia would not benefit from a destabilized global financial market, and neither would the United States,” he said.
The fierce debate over the legislation has bubbled up at a precarious time for Obama, who is set to land in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to meet with King Salman.
Earnest said he is not sure if Obama will raise the issue during a meeting in which the leaders are expected to discuss the Iran nuclear agreement and the fight against Daesh (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
“If this issue were to come up … the potential consequences of rolling back this core principle of international law is how the president would explain our position to his counterparts,” he said.
Saudi officials have for years denied their government had any role in the plotting of the attacks. The 9/11 Commission report said the Saudi government “as an institution” or its senior officials individually did not fund the attackers.
But there has long been speculation that lower-level officials may have been involved. And victims’ families and lawmakers in both parties have pressed for the release of 28 pages of a 2002 report on the attacks that reportedly detail Saudi officials’ role in the plot.
The legislation, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, would allow victims of terror attacks on US soil to sue the governments of nations that support terrorism.
It has bipartisan support; Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) both authored the bill. They argue it would allow American citizens to recoup damages from countries that have provided financial support to groups like al Qaeda.
Earnest said Obama has “devoted significant time in office to fighting for the 9/11 families and those who have risked their lives to rebuild after 9/11.”