WASHINGTON: The White House confirmed Monday that President Barack Obama will veto a bill that would allow relatives of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for compensation.
“That’s not an effective, forceful way for us to respond to terrorism,” spokesman Josh Earnest said, adding that the text, which has raised major concerns among Washington’s Gulf allies, has yet to reach the president’s desk.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act was approved in the House by unanimous voice vote on Friday, some four months after its Senate passage — and only two days before the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
The government of Saudi Arabia, a US ally but also home nation to 15 of the 19 hijackers, has worked hard to see the bill defeated.
Obama’s concerns with the law include that it essentially waives the doctrine of sovereign immunity that protects nation states from civil suits or criminal prosecution — and could thus expose the United States to lawsuits in various countries around the world.
“There’s no denying the political potency of this issue. But the president believes that it’s important to look out for our country, to look out for our service members and look out for our diplomats,” Earnest said.
“And allowing this bill to come into law would increase the risk that they face.”
However, the legislation’s easy passage raises the prospect of a veto override, which requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. It would be the first time Obama would be dealt such a blow during his presidency.
Earlier Monday, the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Saudi Arabia is the most powerful member, expressed “profound worry” over the bill, saying it would “create a grave precedent.”