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Obama Veto Threat Looms after Congress Passes Bill Letting 9/11 Victims to Sue Saudi Arabia | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this Aug. 4, 2016 file photo, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon. AP

Washington-Minutes after the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts for compensation over its alleged involvement in the attacks, the White House responded by threatening to veto it.

Experts expected heightened tension between Congress and the White House over the bill, which the Huffington Post newspaper said would cause a diplomatic nightmare for President Barack Obama.

White House officials stressed that Obama would veto the bill because it would essentially waive the doctrine of sovereign immunity that protects nation states from civil suits or criminal prosecution.

The officials praised joint U.S.-Saudi efforts to confront extremism and terrorism.

The House passed the legislation Friday by voice vote, after the measure cleared the Senate last May.

The measure would allow attack survivors and relatives of terror victims to pursue cases in federal court against foreign governments and demand compensation if such governments are proven to bear some responsibility for attacks on U.S. soil.

Votes from two-thirds of the members in the House and Senate would be needed to override a veto by Obama.

“This legislation would change long-standing, international law regarding sovereign immunity,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said back in May, after the Senate unanimously approved the bill.

“The president of the United States continues to harbor serious concerns that this legislation would make the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world,” Earnest said.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said the victims of 9/11 and other attacks on U.S. soil are seeking justice.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas also said: “Today’s vote sends an unmistakable message that we should combat terrorism with every tool we have, and that the families of those lost in attacks like that on September 11th should have every means at their disposal to seek justice.”

Meanwhile, Dennis Ross, a counselor and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and former special assistant to Obama from 2009 to 2011, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post, praising the reforms adopted by Saudi Arabia.

Ross said he has just visited Saudi Arabia, in which he led a small bipartisan group of former national security officials.

“The United States surely has a stake in the success of the Saudi transformation process. Aside from ensuring stability in the kingdom, its success could at long last demonstrate an Arab leadership capable of remaking its society from within, without terrible upheaval,” he wrote.

Ross advised the next administration to offer technical assistance with the Aramco IPO and economic reforms more generally.