WASHINGTON (UPI) — President Barack Obama will likely veto a bill that would revoke Saudi Arabia’s sovereign immunity that protects it from facing lawsuits related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration’s concern is not how the legislation will affect the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia, but how it will affect an “important principle of international law.”
The bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, is being considered in the Senate. It would strip the Saudi government of its protection from American lawsuits in federal court. If enacted, the legislation could open a floodgate of civil suits against the Saudi government from families of the Sept. 11 victims.
Saudi Arabia has never been formally linked to the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., but 15 of the 19 hijackers were from there. A 28-page section of the government’s official report on the Sept. 11 attacks deals with the role foreign governments played in the plot, but that section remains classified and has not been released to the public.
Earnest said that it would be a “difficult to imagine a scenario in which the president would sign the bill as it’s currently drafted.”
“The whole notion of sovereign immunity is at stake and it is one that has more significant consequences for the United States than any other country,” Earnest told reporters, adding that the United States would subject itself to international lawsuits.
Obama on Tuesday said the bill would expose the United States to countless lawsuits.
“This is a matter of how … the United States approaches our interactions with other countries,” Obama told CBS. “If we open up the possibility that individuals and the United States can routinely start suing over governments, then we are also opening up the United States to being continually sued by individuals in other countries.”
Earnest said he hopes any issue with Saudi Arabia can be resolved “through diplomacy and not through the courts in one country or the other.” He also said that he is not sure if Obama will bring up the topic during his visit to Saudi Arabia where he will meet with King Salman later this month.
Eric DuVall contributed to this report.