GE to remain committed to Saudi Arabia despite 9/11 bill

12 October 2016

CEO says company will maintain presence in the kingdom for another 80 years

US-based GE is committed to the Saudi market and will maintain its presence in the kingdom despite the adoption of a bill by Washington that allows the victims of the 11 September 2001 attacks to legally pursue Riyadh, according to its top executive.

”There is no more important relationship in the region than the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia. That was true in the past, true today and is going to be true in the future,” GE CEO Jeff Immelt told a conference in Khobar, Saudi Arabia on 12 October. “I think this is the time to have a long-term view on the power of friendships and really understand how important the kingdom is in the world,” he said when asked to explain the company’s long-term plans for for the kingdom in the wake of passing of the controversial bill.

GE was one of the first foreign companies to establish business relationships with Saudi Arabia 80 years ago and will maintain its presence here for another 80 years, Immelt added.

The US Congress approved adoption of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) in late September, rejecting President Barack Obama’s veto of the bill. The legislation allows victims and families of the 9/11 terror attack in New York to sue Saudi Arabia, a long-standing ally of America in the Arab world.

Senators had argued that the families of the victims of 9/11 should be allowed to pursue justice, even if it causes diplomatic challenges.

Obama had argued that JASTA could expose US companies, troops and officials to lawsuits, and alienate important allies at a time of global unrest.

”My view is that I’m a proud American and I always have sympathy in my heart for all the victims of 9/11,” he said. ”All of the general and military and security people including my own President were against the JASTA bill. [They] were against it from the security standpoint and beyond that,” Immelt explained.

Major US corporations with business interests in Saudi Arabia, including GE and Dow Chemical Company, had also opposed it, as did the EU and other US allies. Secretary of Defence Ash Carter, the CIA director John Brennan were among the people who had urged the lawmakers not to adopt the bill before September vote.

JASTA is a blow to Saudi Arabia, which had extensively lobbyed against the legislation. Riyadh has denied responsibility for attacks on US soil and has strongly objected to the bill. The kingdom had reportedly said it might sell up to $750bn in US debt and other assets if it became law, according to earlier media reports.

In its first official reaction to JASTA, Riyadh in in early October said the bill is of great concern to the international community and could affect all countries.

The Saudi cabinet called JASTA a violation of the basic spirit of international relations, which is based on “equality and sovereign immunity”, the principles governing international relations for hundreds of years.

“Weakening this sovereign immunity will affect all countries, including the US,” Information Minister Adel al-Toraifi had said at the time.

Saudi Arabia hoped that “wisdom will prevail and the US Congress will take the necessary steps to avoid the bad and dangerous consequences that may result from enacting JASTA,” the minister had said.

The bill has drawn criticism from wider GCC and the ministers of justice from six-member economic bloc earlier this month said JASTA has posed challenges and risks to the GCC states and it required forming a special team, tasked with considering the impact of the legislation. 

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