Rewarding Iran and sanctioning Saudi Arabia
The question is why, how and what to expect after JASTA?
Even a year ago, few expected the weird prospect of Washington taking two important decisions that go against the US policies of the past 40 years. Rewarding Iran through the JCPOA nuclear agreement, that saves the later from sanctions, and allowing Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia through Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), were probably both unthinkable.
The irony is rewarding Iran, that is labelled among the first countries in the world to have sponsored terrorism, to which most of the international community agree, and sanctioning Saudi Arabia that is at the forefront in fight against terrorism.
The question is why, how and what to expect after JASTA? We will be discussing these questions in the coming months, after the insistence of the two chambers of the Congress on the new law and the majority voting against the President Obama’s veto.
Protesting against the White House’s attempts to topple the votes, last week, Senator John Cornyn said that lawmakers and lawyers have been working on this law for so long. “Why now? We have been discussing it since 2009” he said.
On September 19th 2013, Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, introduced a bill, and on the same day, a Republican legislator presented a similar one to the House of Representatives. In September of the following year, it was approved in the Justice Committee with slight amendments. It was passed unanimously at the end of the same year in the Senate.
In the following year, i.e. 2015, it was presented again to the House of Representatives after further amendments, then sent back to legislation with the judicial committee in February of this year 2016, where they agreed on the amendments. Finally, the Senate unanimously agreed on it, as well as the House of Representatives in September, and it was then sent to the White House, which rejected it.
Saudi Arabia kept fighting against al-Qaeda even when American official institutions and Western human rights organizations were criticizing the Saudi governmentAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The bill was sent again to the two chambers that challenged the President’s veto with a striking majority. This is the track summary of this legislation that came to be known as JASTA.
The new law is far from being just and is rather a project plotted by lawyers. They chose Saudi Arabia, a country that was fighting al-Qaeda and prosecuting its leader Osama bin Laden. It is the country that stripped Bin Laden of his citizenship and forced the government of Sudan to evict him. He left in 1996, five years before the 9/11 attacks.
Saudi Arabia kept fighting against al-Qaeda even when American official institutions and Western human rights organizations were criticizing the Saudi government. Now that JASTA has allowed thousands of Americans, related to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, to file lawsuits against Saudi Arabia.
Look back in anger
So what can Saudi Arabia do now? There have been angry reactions from the Saudi people and even as opponents were happy about the situation. There are some who advised the Saudis to take hostile political positions against the United States; however, the government in Riyadh has a long history of dealing with crises and has enough wisdom and prudence to find solutions and fix what the unjust legislation may ruin. I don’t think that Saudi Arabia would do anything that would ruin its ties with the United States for many reasons, whether on the strategic or historical levels.
The Iranian regime has been working for quite a while to sabotage relations between Riyadh and Washington. It would be happy to see that the Saudis are at odds with their old ally. This is what Bin Laden also wanted when he plotted and sent the terrorists to carry out attacks on New York and Washington in order to undermine the US-Saudi relations.
Unfortunately, the Congress has now offered to al-Qaeda, terror outfits and Iran what they were dreaming about – a law holding the victim accountable with the victim being Saudi Arabia. It has, on the other hand, left Iran off the country, even though it fueled terror via Hezbollah in Lebanon 30 years ago.
There is still hope that ruin caused by JASTA law could be fixed. This could be done by cooperating with the next US administration after the elections. However, those who are urging Saudi Arabia to cut its ties with the US are the ones who have provided the same unwise advice to previous regimes in Iraq and Libya.
We shall not disregard our great achievements despite the injustice of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 30, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.