Saudi supporters still ‘a formidable lobby’ in Congress

TEHRAN, Oct. 09 (MNA) – A University of South Alabama professor has said JASTA has been mainly an election season device for both parties to pose for being ‘tough’ in foreign terrorism.

Recent confrontation between Barack Obama and Republican-dominated Congress over Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) which passed by the latter and vetoed by the former indicates, as Professor Nader Entessar would agree, that in an election season, parties would work to pose on the eyes of the voting public as being tough on foreign terrorism and try to vilify the other party of laxity. Obama’s veto however was voided by a bi-partisan coordination in the Congress. However, professor believes, in the Congress, supporters of Saudi Arabia still abounds and their lobby is still formidable enough to alleviate the consequences for Saudi Arabia or even to undo what the Congress achieved.

Payman Yazdani of Mehr News International Service talked to Professor Entessar on the significance of the confrontation and possible consequences for the Saudi rulers, who would now feel a change of US regional policies:

President Obama vetoed JASTA legislation, but Congress voided his veto. How would you analyze the Congress conduct in such confrontation with the White House?

We have to remember that this is an election year in the United States, and the issue of terrorism and how to fight or punish terrorists and their supporters looms large.  As a result, US politicians must look and act "tough" in the eyes of their constituency in order to maximize their chances of re-election. The popular pressure on Congress is increasing too. Congress has not suddenly turned against Saudi Arabia; the timing was just right for Congress to pass this law. Supporters of Saudi policies in the region are still prevalent in Congress.

Does this legislation mean that Saudi Arabia has lost its strategic importance for the US?

There is no question that Saudi Arabia’s traditional and historic strategic importance to the US is changing from what it used to be. However, Saudi Arabia still plays an important role in Washington's Middle East strategy, especially in the Persian Gulf. In other words, Saudi Arabia remains a strategic asset to the United States, but it is an asset whose value to Washington is multidimensional and is in flux.

Which groups and parties did insist on ratifying this bill and why?

The bill had strong bi-partisan support in Congress. Even some of Saudi Arabia's strong supporters in Congress went along with the bill and did not oppose it strongly. As I indicated in my answer to the first question, the prevailing anti-terrorism mood in the current election cycle would have made it very difficult for Saudi supporters to oppose the bill lest they be accused by their election opponents as "being soft on terrorism."

Saudi Shura Council has declared that this legislation would have implications for international community. What will be the consequences of this legislation for Saudis?

There is a long-standing doctrine in international law called "sovereign immunity" that prevents private citizens of a country from suing foreign governments in their domestic courts. The Saudis are probably referring to this doctrine. The most immediate concern of the Saudis now is they may face a number of law suits against them in US courts. Even if the plaintiffs do not prevail, the Saudis are fearful that information detrimental to their standing may be divulged in the course of these potential trials.

It seems that Congress has started efforts to cancel this legislation. What do you think of this?

The legislation in its current form has several loopholes that may make it difficult for a plaintiff to sue Saudi Arabia. Bu I will not be surprised if Congress decides to water-down the legislation and make it weaker. Pro-Saudi sentiments are generally strong in Congress, and many influential members of Congress has been beneficiary of Saudi lobbying in the United States.

Nader Entessar is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at the University of South Alabama. He is the author of more than 70 articles and book chapters in scholarly publications and has published six books. Dr. Entessar’s latest publications are 'Kurdish Politics in the Middle East' and 'Iran’s Northern Exposure: Foreign Policy Challenges in Eurasia.'

Interview by: Payman Yazdani

News Code 120397

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