Saudi Arabia lobbies to amend JASTA law which allows 9/11 victims to sue the Gulf state
Following an extended trip to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir told reporters on Sunday he has been trying “to persuade [US lawmakers] that there needs to be an amendment of the law,” the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), that legitimizes lawsuits by Americans regarding terrorist attacks committed on US soil.
“We believe the law, that curtails sovereign immunities, represents a grave danger to the international system,” Jubeir said at a joint press conference with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry, as cited by AFP news agency. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly expressed these views since the US Congress passed the legislation in September, overriding US President Barack Obama’s veto of JASTA. This time, however, negotiations on the matter have already been held, the Saudi minister said.
“The question now becomes how do you go about amending the law,” he said.
Fifteen out of the 19 hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people were Saudi subjects. The kingdom, however, has denied any ties to the hijackers.
The JASTA law allows attack survivors and relatives of attack victims to file lawsuits against foreign countries for acts of terrorism that kill Americans on US soil. Also known as House Resolution 3815, it creates an exception to the sovereign immunity law introduced in 1976, allowing US citizens to sue foreign governments in US federal court and demand compensation if those governments are proven to bear some responsibility for attacks within the US.
This exception drew concern from many countries – both in the Gulf and globally – that the legislation will erode sovereign immunity, considered one of the founding principles of international relations.
Some British, French, and Dutch lawmakers have threatened retaliatory legislation to allow their courts to pursue US officials, which is why outgoing President Obama vetoed JASTA in the first place, explaining that it would harm American interests as it opens the United States up to private lawsuits over its military missions abroad.
“The United States is, by eroding [the sovereign immunity] principle, opening the door for other countries to take similar steps and then before you know it international order becomes governed by the law of the jungle,” the Saudi foreign minister said.
Saudi Arabia recently warned it would pull its money out of the US economy, selling up to $750 billion in US treasury securities and other assets, before lawsuits demanding compensation start pouring in and put these assets in jeopardy. However, responding to a question on whether Saudi Arabia was still reconsidering its investment strategy on Sunday, Jubeir assured reporters that it plans to continue with its investments and does not plan to decrease them.
“[The Kingdom] has tremendous investments in the United States and we review those investments on a regular basis. There are issues associated with risk, but our objective is to increase those investments. We won’t decrease them,” he said, as cited by Reuters. The US Treasury Department said that the kingdom owned $116.8 billion in securities in the US as of March this year.