| RIYADH/DUBAI, Sept 29
RIYADH/DUBAI, Sept 29 A U.S. law allowing
lawsuits against Saudi Arabia over the Sept. 11 attacks met a
stony silence from Riyadh on Thursday but some Saudis bristled,
saying the kingdom could curb business and security ties in
response to an ally's perceived affront.
The Senate and House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly
on Wednesday to approve legislation that will allow the families
of those who died in the 2001 attacks in New York to seek
damages from the Saudi government.
Riyadh has always dismissed suspicions that it backed the
attackers, who killed nearly 3,000 people under the banner of
Islamist militant group al Qaeda. Fifteen out of the 19
hijackers were Saudi nationals.
The Saudi government financed an extensive lobbying campaign
against the "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act", or
JASTA, in the run-up to the vote, and warned it would undermine
the principle of sovereign immunity.
But Saudi officials stopped short of threatening any
retaliation if the law was passed. The long-standing alliance
between the kingdom and the United States is one of the
cornerstones of the Middle East's politics, security and trade,
and in their reactions on Thursday some Saudis said JASTA would
jeopardise what they see as an interdependent relationship.
"What would happen if Saudi Arabia froze its cooperation
with the United States with regards to counter-terrorism as a
response to JASTA?" Salman al-Dosary, editor-in-chief of the
pan-Arab, Saudi-owned Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, wrote on
Another Saudi national referred to a widely held belief in
the region that the United States was after the kingdom's oil
wealth. The law was "the last chance (for the U.S.) to bleed out
the resources of our good nation," wrote Abdullah Medallah on
There was no official reaction from Saudi Arabia, and in the
short-term, few expect little more reaction than a curt
statement of disapproval from Riyadh.
Some analysts argue the Al Saud ruling family will interpret
the move as political expedience by lawmakers in a U.S. election
season and that the chances of a successful lawsuit are
uncertain at best.
But the measure does nothing to ease long-standing friction
in the alliance: President Barack Obama, who had vetoed JASTA
but was overridden by Congress, is increasingly seen by the
kingdom and fellow Gulf Arab as favouring their bitter rival
Iran, a charge Washington denies, and differs with Riyadh over
Syria and other Arab crises.
"This bill reflects an anti-Saudi campaign. It is time to
see less of America in our midst," said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a
political scientist in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Some analysts have speculated that Riyadh could retaliate by
curbing U.S. trade with the biggest Arab economy or restrict
cooperation on security, a crucial relationship for U.S.
counter-terrorism and for peace efforts in Arab conflicts.
Political Theodore Karasik of Gulf State Analytics wrote on
al Arabiya website that JASTA would "ignite a firestorm of legal
warfare that will directly undermine political relationships at
a time when robust ties to fight terrorism is required."
He said the measure could also disrupt sweeping economic
reforms meant to boost the private sector and foreign investment
and wean the kingdom off oil dependence.
The Saudi riyal fell against the U.S. dollar in the forward
foreign exchange market on Thursday after the bill was passed.
Some analysts speculated that bilateral trade and investment
could be hurt. The kingdom owns $96.5 billion of U.S. Treasury
bonds, and is believed to hold at least that sum in other U.S.
assets and bank accounts.
(Additional reporting by Stanley Carvalho, Davide Barbuscia,
Celine Aswad, Andrew Torchia and Tom Arnold; Writing by William
Maclean; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)