The special relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia that spans more than seventy years now faces a difficult test after a draft bill allowing the families of those killed in the September 11 attacks to sue the Saudi Arabian government and its institutions was approved by Congress. The US President Barack Obama was supposed to inform Congress of his rejection of the new legislation by using his right of veto. However, both the Senate and the House of Representatives announced that they will be extending the duration of the session, just in case senators need to vote against the veto and insist on the new law.
Unless 34 out of a total of 100 senators are convinced of the dangerousness of the legislation and support the president, it will become the worst week in the history of the two countries, and will also damage the concept of the sovereignty of nations and relations between nations.
In the past few days, a large number of senior politicians have protested against Congress’ decision, and they include former presidents of the United States. The European Union also appealed to Congress not to adopt it and a number of world leaders opposed it. Two days ago, The New York Times said that although President Barack Obama is not on good terms with Saudi Arabia, he opposes the decision for fear of its consequences on sovereignty, and the damage that it would do to world order.
Those who worked on the prosecution project, whether they are the lawyers or politicians who drafted the law and rallied the necessary support for it, spent a lot of time on it and won’t change their minds about it easily. They played on emotions more than relying on legality and set the dates of the vote in both chambers of the Congress before the elections so that they can blackmail the candidates in their states and regions on both an emotional and political level. During the elections, they will remind representatives that they can either stand “with Saudi Arabia or the American victims and their families!”
Are there 34 senators in the Senate who are ready to be guided by reason and to support President Obama? Or will this year end with not only a nuclear agreement with Iran but also a bill punishing Saudi Arabia? It’s a strange piece of legislation because the kingdom has actually been Washington’s first partner in the war on terror since 2001, after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
This will be a crucial week that proves that those who have sought to sabotage the relationship between the two governments for decades have succeeded to a large extent, after having tried various times in the past and failing. In the seventies, there were calls to punish Saudi Arabia because of the oil embargo and then because the price of oil rose, but successive US governments refused. Then calls were made to hold Saudi accountable for its support of the PLO, but they were not successful.
It is ironic that in the late nineties there was a campaign of criticism from different organisations because Saudi Arabia prosecuted and arrested extremist groups after the bombings in Riyadh and their formation of various organisations and associations that were accused of being linked to Al-Qaeda in its infancy. Critical articles and reports appeared in the British and American press saying that the stoning of extremists was against their human rights.
After the September 11 attacks and the United States’ announcement that it was waging a war on terror, there has been a significant improvement in the American vision and understanding of the Saudi position. As a result, there has been an increase in the level of security cooperation and for the first time, American security services such as the FBI were involved in this cooperation. For nearly ten years, the security relationship between the two countries was stronger than the political one.
This long history which includes the discovery of oil, a strong political alliance, fighting common wars and confronting terrorism in our era is facing a great challenge that threatens to demolish it.