Following last week’s report that Saudi Arabia is starting to apply pressure on the incoming Trump administration by hinting it could move the Aramco IPO away from New York to some still undetermined venue due to concerns the recently passed Sept 11 law could make business in the US problematic, on Sunday Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said he has been lobbying US legislators to change a law allowing victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks to sue the kingdom.
According to AFP, Adel al-Jubeir told reporters he had returned from an extended stay in the United States, which was partly “to try to persuade them that there needs to be an amendment of the law”, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). In September, the US Congress voted overwhelmingly to override President Barack Obama’s veto of the JASTA. While 15 of the 19 Al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks were Saudi, Riyadh continues to deny any ties to the plotters who killed nearly 3,000 people, and is worried disclosures in court could lead to material complications about conducting business in America.
“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.
In opposing the law, Obama said it would harm US interests by opening up the United States to private lawsuits over its military missions abroad; on the other hand Trump has been a fervent supporter of the bill. He called Obama’s veto attempt shameful and said it would “go down as one of the low points of his presidency.”
In a statement before Congress voted to overturn the veto, Mr. Trump said: “If elected president, I would sign such legislation should it reach my desk.” Mr. Trump didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Saudi Arabia’s Gulf allies have also expressed concern about erosion of sovereign immunity, a principle sacrosanct in international relations.
But the potential implications go far beyond the Gulf. Some British, French and Dutch lawmakers have threatened retaliatory legislation to allow their courts to pursue US officials, threatening a global legal domino effect.
“The United States is, by eroding this 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,” Jubeir said.
He added that the US itself would suffer most from the erosion of sovereign immunity. “The question now becomes how do you go about amending the law”, he said.
Meanwhile, John Kerry, whose visit was focused on the war in Yemen, at the press conference reiterated his government’s concern over JASTA.