President Barack Obama on Friday vetoed legislation that would allow families of victims of the September 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, saying the bill would hurt US national security interests.
Obama said in a statement that the bill which was passed by the US Senate in May could lead to lawsuits against its own officials for actions by foreign groups that receive Washington's aid, military equipment or training.
It would also hurt efforts to work with foreign allies on counter terrorism and other issues, he said.
Obama has vetoed JASTA - the 9/11 bill allowing victims and families to sue Saudis.
— Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford) 23 Eyll 2016
The US President said he had “deep sympathy” for the families.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, one of the most prominent Democrats urging the president to sign the bill, predicted that Obama’s veto would be “swiftly and soundly overturned in Congress.”
“The families of the victims of 9-11 deserve their day in court, and justice for those families shouldn’t be thrown overboard because of diplomatic concerns,” Schumer said.
— JohnCornyn (@JohnCornyn) September 23, 2016
The bill sailed through both chambers of Congress by voice vote, with final House passage coming just two days before Obama led the nation in marking the 15th anniversary of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.
Congress was expected to move rapidly to try to override the veto, which requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office said the Senate would take up the override “as soon as practicable in this work period.”
Fifteen of the 19 men who carried out the attacks were Saudi nationals. Families of the victims spent years lobbying lawmakers for the right to sue the kingdom in US court for any role elements of Saudi Arabia’s government may have had in the attacks.
Saudi Arabia, a key US ally in the Middle East, strongly objected to the bill.
President Obama's veto of #JASTA is a major disappointment. 9/11 families deserve justice. I will stand up for 9/11 families & override veto
— Rep. Walter Jones (@RepWalterJones) 23 Eyll 2016
The bill, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, had triggered a threat from Saudi Arabia to pull billions of dollars from the US economy if it was enacted.
The House vote on September 9 came two months after Congress released 28 declassified pages from a congressional report into the attacks. The pages reignited speculation over links that at least a few of the attackers had to Saudis, including government officials.
The allegations were never substantiated by later US investigations.