GCC protests over US law on sponsors of terrorism

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed says the legislation, which president Barack Obama plans to veto, would affect international relations and counterterrorism efforts.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, has warned of the impact on international relations from a new US law allowing prosecution of sovereign states in US courts. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National  / February 2, 2016
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Abu Dhabi // The GCC has condemned a bill passed unanimously by the United States congress last week that would allow families of the victims of the September 11 terror attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia in US courts.

Such legislation undermines international relations and could affect counterterrorism cooperation between Washington and its Gulf allies, the GCC secretary general Abdullatif Al Zayani said.

The bill, which president Barack Obama strongly opposes, is “contrary to the foundations and principles of relations between states and the principle of sovereign immunity enjoyed by states,” Mr Al Zayani said.

“Such laws will negatively affect the international efforts and international cooperation to combat terrorism,” he said.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, also criticised the bill the state news agency Wam reported.

“This law is not equal with the foundations and principles of relations among states, and represents a clear violation given its negative repercussions and dangerous precedents,” Sheikh Abdullah said.

Sheikh Abdullah said the law would “negatively affect international efforts and cooperation to combat terrorism”, and that the UAE was looking forward to congress reviewing the law and not ratifying it.

The US senate voted unanimously in support of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act in May. The house followed suit on Friday, passing the bill unanimously by voice vote. The White House has said that Mr Obama would veto the bill.

“It’s not hard to imagine other countries using this law as an excuse to haul US diplomats or US service members or even US companies into courts all around the world,” Mr Obama’s spokesman said yesterday. “I do anticipate the president would veto this legislation.”

The approval from the usually gridlocked US legislature came despite warnings from his administration that the law would end the principle of sovereign immunity for states in domestic courts and put Americans at risk when they travel abroad. Under current US law dating back to 1976, only countries officially designated as supporters of terrorism, such as Iran, can be sued. Mr Obama’s administration and senior members of both parties have also warned that crucial counterterrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia could be undermined.

Fifteen of the 19 September 11 plane hijackers were Saudis, and a 2002 congressional investigation that was partly declassified earlier this year by the White House showed that there were suspicious, but unverified, links between low-level Saudi officials in the US and some of the terrorists.

Long-standing lawsuits filed by some victims’ families have been blocked by the current sovereign immunity law, but pressure has been growing in Washington during the current election campaign cycle for the law to be changed to allow the lawsuits to go forward.

If Mr Obama does veto the law, the vote to override is not likely until after the November elections. A veto requires two-thirds support in both houses of congress, and would be the first of Mr Obama’s presidency.

The 9/11 Commission report published in 2004 found that the Saudi state played no role in the terrorist attack.

It is unclear what the effect on the already strained US-Saudi relationship would be if the bill became law, but Saudi officials have reportedly warned that they would liquidate their US assets to shield them from legal action.