Saudi Arabia is warning it will sell off billions in American assets if the U.S. Congress passes a bipartisan bill that would allow victims of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks to sue foreign governments.
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir issued the warning to U.S. lawmakers last month during a visit to Washington, two senior State Department officials told CNN. A source with knowledge of the Saudis’ thinking said investments would be put in jeopardy if this bill passes, so they are trying to protect themselves from risk.
The story was first reported Saturday by The New York Times.
The Obama administration has, in turn, applied heavy pressure on Congress to block the bill. Top officials from the State Department and Pentagon warned Senate Armed Services Committee staffers last month that the bill could bring economic risks to the U.S.
The Saudis did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Asked if President Barack Obama would veto the legislation if passed by Congress, a senior administration official told CNN that “rather than entertain a hypothetical, we believe there needs to be more careful consideration of the potential unintended consequences of its enactment before proceeding with legislation.”
“We would welcome opportunities to engage with the Congress on that discussion,” the official added.
In February, Secretary of State John Kerry said the legislation could “expose the United States of America to lawsuits and take away our sovereign immunity and create a terrible precedent.”
The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, opens the door for families of 9/11 victims to sue foreign states and financial partners of terrorism.
Former Sen. Bob Graham, the co-chair of the 9/11 congressional inquiry, told CNN’s Michael Smerconish Saturday morning that he is “outraged but not surprised” by the warning from the Saudi government.
“The Saudis have known what they did in 9/11, and they knew that we knew what they did, at least at the highest levels of the U.S. government,” Graham said on “Smerconish.”
The government of Saudi Arabia, a longtime and key strategic U.S. ally in the Middle East, has never been formally implicated in the 9/11 attacks and Saudi officials have long denied any involvement. But 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, and in February, Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker” who pleaded guilty to participating in an al Qaeda conspiracy in connection to the 9/11 attacks, alleged members of the Saudi royal family supported al Qaeda.
Twenty-eight pages of the 9/11 Commission Report, which are said to focus on the role of foreign governments in the plot, remain classified. Saudi officials asked the U.S. to release the redacted 28-page section in 2003, saying this would give them the opportunity to defend themselves against claims of involvement.
But the Bush administration refused, saying the material would jeopardize their ability to gather intelligence on suspected terrorists. The Obama administration has carried on that policy.
Families of both victims and survivors in the 9/11 attacks filed a lawsuit against the Saudi government, but the suit was thrown out last year when a federal judge ruled that the kingdom had sovereign immunity in the case.