Depending who you ask, this may or may not be a bad thing. Only days before President Obama heads to Saudi Arabia, relations with that nation seem to be on the verge of breaking down substantially. There are a few different items which have reached the boiling point just this year, and the first one is a bill currently making the rounds in Congress which would allow family members of 9/11 victims to sue the Arab nation for their (I suppose we should say “alleged”) involvement in the attacks. As you might imagine, this isn’t making the Saudi royal family feel particularly warm and fuzzy, and they are now threatening to dump vast American holdings onto the market. (Yahoo Finance)
Saudi Arabia threatened to sell up to $750 billion worth of US assets held by the Kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be sued over 9/11, reports The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti.
Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, personally passed on the message last month during a trip to Washington, according to The Times.
The foreign minister was referring to the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, (JASTA) which would let victims of 9/11 and other terrorist acts sue foreign sponsors of terrorism.
The idea that our “friends” in Saudi Arabia were – at one level or another – involved in the attacks is nothing new and it’s hardly the stuff of conspiracy theories. True, it may not have been official Saudi government policy to attack the United States, but when so many of the hijackers were citizens of that nation and some of their government officials here in the United States were purportedly linked to them it’s rather hard to ignore.
Could they make good on their threat? It’s obviously their prerogative, and the effects might not bring us to our knees but it definitely wouldn’t help matters. Dumping three quarters of a trillion dollars of American assets would send a shock through the financial markets and it’s a reminder of the even greater hold that other nations such as China have hanging over our heads. But such an action comes at a cost to the country doing the dumping as well, so there’s a bit of a balancing act.
In case you’re wondering where Hillary Clinton stands on this bill you’ll have to wait to find out. The Clinton Foundation has received more than $25M from Saudi Arabia and despite this bill having been in the works for years, Clinton told George Stephanopoulos that she really didn’t know anything about it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re senior senator here in New York, Chuck Schumer has sponsored a bill backed by the 9/11 families that would give them the right to sue state sponsors of terror in federal court. Now, it’s opposed by the Obama administration. They say it’s going to expose the US and its officials to retaliation. So who’s right here, Senator Schumer or President Obama?
CLINTON: I don’t really know about that, George. I’ll have to look into it. Obviously we’ve got to make anyone who participates in or supports terrorism pay a price. And we also have to be aware of any consequences that might affect Americans, either military or civilian or our nation. So I’m not—
STEPHANOPOULOS: (CROSSTALK) You don’t’ know about—It’s been around for several years.
CLINTON: Well, I know there’s been an issue about it for quite some time. I don’t’ know about the specific legislation that you’re referring to, but obviously I’ll look into it.
How convenient. Way to stay on top of world events, Madam Secretary.
It’s not only the lawsuit which is on the mind of the Saudis. They’re also concerned about the possibility of the White House releasing the long missing 28 pages from the 9/11 report which could cement many of the concerns expressed above. (NBC News)
That the two of the hijackers involved in the September 11th attacks landed in Los Angeles, moved to San Diego and obtained housing, language lessons and identification is widely known.
However, those 28 pages could shed more light on the money and connections used to do so and are said to include information “suggesting specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the United States,” according to the chapter’s introduction in the report.
Former Senator Bob Graham told “60 Minutes” in an interview, “I think it is implausible to believe that 19 people, most of whom didn’t speak English, most of whom had never been in the United States before, many of whom didn’t have a high school education — could’ve carried out such a complicated task without some support from within the United States.”
Even if the pages are released and they look absolutely awful for Saudi Arabia, it’s unclear what else would come of it. True, the documents might feed a bit more fuel to the fire surrounding the aforementioned lawsuits, but beyond that we’re unlikely to get our hands on anyone else who could be put on trial for the attacks. (That’s just speculation on my part, but it’s been notoriously hard to go after any Saudis for anything in the past.) The fact that the Obama administration is fighting to keep the pages secret probably tells us a lot, since he’s working on keeping our relationship with the Saudi Royal family in one piece after ticking them off with the Iran nuke deal.
While not directly related, it’s also worth noting that we’re in the middle of an oil glut which is driving down prices and costing us jobs here in the United States. There’s been a lot of pressure on the Saudis to cut back on production to try to stabilize the oil market before it tanks any further, but they are steadfastly refusing to do so. They have their own reasons for that which no doubt make sense to them. (After all, you don’t see anyone demanding that the United States tail off production, but then again our production is driven by capitalist market forces.)
Add all of these things together and times are more than tense between Riyadh and Washington. This should make for a very cozy meeting when the President arrives there on Wednesday.