Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir (l., with Secretary of State John Kerry) said the Arab nation would sell off $750 billion of its U.S. assets if the controversial legislation is passed.
Saudi Arabia is threatening to sell off up to $750 billion in U.S. assets if Congress passes legislation making its government liable for 9/11-related lawsuits, The New York Times reported.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in a Washington visit last month, informed U.S. lawmakers of the potential sale of treasury securities and other American assets. The move would be necessary to prevent U.S. courts from possibly freezing the assets due to legal action. The dispute pits the Obama Administration against some lawmakers and 9/11 family members who believe Saudi officials were involved in the plot that killed nearly 3,000.
The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage, according to administration officials and congressional aides from both parties, and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. The officials have warned senators of diplomatic and economic fallout from the legislation.
Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts.
Several outside economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through, saying that such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. But the threat is another sign of the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The administration, which argues that the legislation would put Americans at legal risk overseas, has been lobbying so intently against the bill that some lawmakers and families of Sept. 11 victims are infuriated. In their view, the Obama administration has consistently sided with the kingdom and has thwarted their efforts to learn what they believe to be the truth about the role some Saudi officials played in the terrorist plot.
“It’s stunning to think that our government would back the Saudis over its own citizens,” said Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and who is part of a group of victims’ family members pushing for the legislation.
President Obama will arrive in Riyadh on Wednesday for meetings with King Salman and other Saudi officials. It is unclear whether the dispute over the Sept. 11 legislation will be on the agenda for the talks.
The administration is urging Congress to consider the financial and diplomatic fallout that would ensue with the longtime U.S. ally if the bipartisan Senate legislation is passed, the Times said. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, are the sponsors of the bill. Cornyn said last months that the legislation was critical to “stopping the funding source for terrorists.”
The lingering tensions provide a backdrop for Obama’s planned Wednesday trip to Riyadh for meetings with Saudi officials, including King Salman. Any legislation would need the approval of both houses of Congress and the president.
9/11 terror plane about to crash into twin tower
Plane crashes into first of twin towers
The attackers hijacked planes that were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Some families of 9/11 victims, in legal papers, accused Saudi agents of assisting the terrorists. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian citizens.
9/11 after terror attack twin tower in flames
Under current U.S. law, foreign nations are spared from such lawsuits under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act. A federal appeals court and a Manhattan federal judge have both dismissed the 9/11 suit against Saudi Arabia.
The proposed new legislation would specifically allow legal action against other countries only in cases of an attack on American soil.