By Robert A. Vella
In a shockingly provocative shot across-the-bow, The New York Times reported yesterday that Saudi Arabia warned the Obama Administration last month that it will wage economic warfare against the U.S. – by selling off hundreds of billions of dollars of its American assets – if Congress passes a bipartisan bill which could implicate the kingdom’s royal family in the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. Apparently, the threat is so serious that the Obama Administration has been heavily lobbying members of Congress to block the bill’s passage.
The bill, supported by Democrats and Republican legislators, centers around 28 pages of unreleased conclusions documented by a 2002 congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks. From the NYT article:
The dispute comes as bipartisan criticism is growing in Congress about Washington’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, for decades a crucial American ally in the Middle East and half of a partnership that once received little scrutiny from lawmakers. Last week, two senators introduced a resolution that would put restrictions on American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which have expanded during the Obama administration.
Families of the Sept. 11 victims have used the courts to try to hold members of the Saudi royal family, Saudi banks and charities liable because of what the plaintiffs charged was Saudi financial support for terrorism. These efforts have largely been stymied, in part because of a 1976 law that gives foreign nations some immunity from lawsuits in American courts.
The Senate bill is intended to make clear that the immunity given to foreign nations under the law should not apply in cases where nations are found culpable for terrorist attacks that kill Americans on United States soil. If the bill were to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the president, it could clear a path for the role of the Saudi government to be examined in the Sept. 11 lawsuits.
The Obama Administration is asserting that this bill poses grave diplomatic consequences and risks endangering American citizens and their interests overseas. Some economists are saying the Saudi threat is an empty one because economic warfare against the U.S. would cripple its own economy.
U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia have become strained in recent years over the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Yemen Civil War, questions of Saudi support for terrorist organizations (e.g. the Islamic State, al-Qaeda), and economic competition between the Saudi oil industry and domestic American energy producers. Underlying these tensions is the escalating sectarian violence in the Middle East between Sunni and Shiite Muslims which has resulted in a proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against Iran and its allies.
President Obama is traveling to Saudi Arabia next week to attend a summit meeting of Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf region.