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Obama meets with Saudi King Salman amid 9/11 lawsuit debate

By Andrew V. Pestano
Obama meets with Saudi King Salman amid 9/11 lawsuit debate
U.S. President Barack Obama and King Salman of Saudi Arabia met on Wednesday for a bilateral meeting ahead of a Gulf Cooperation Council security summit on Thursday. Photo courtesy of King Salman

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, April 20 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday where he was greeted by King Salman amid U.S. controversy surrounding a bill seeking to revoke the Kingdom's sovereign immunity that protects it from facing lawsuits related to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Obama traveled to Saudi Arabia with senior members of his Cabinet, including National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Homeland Security Counter Terrorism Coordinator Lisa Monico, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Deputy National Advisor for Communication Ben Rhodes and Rob Malley, a senior advisor to Obama specializing in Middle East affairs and the Islamic State.

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Obama was greeted by Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar and Joseph W. Westphal, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. president reached Saudi Arabia's Erga Palace shortly after 2 p.m. local time to hold a meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz and other senior Saudi officials including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Defense Minister -- and the King's son -- Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

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King Salman greeted Obama when the president's motorcade arrived to Erga Palace.

"I and the Saudi people are very pleased that you Mr. President are visiting us here in the kingdom," King Salman said within the palace chambers where the bilateral meeting was held.

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"The American people send their greetings, and we are very grateful for your hospitality -- not just for this meeting but for hosting the [Gulf Cooperation Council]-U.S. summit that's taking place tomorrow," Obama said.

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Back in the United States, debate continues over the controversial bill sponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, that would strip the Saudi government of its protection from American lawsuits in federal court. If enacted, the legislation could open a floodgate of civil suits against the Saudi government from families of the Sept. 11 victims.

Saudi Arabia has never been formally linked to the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., but 15 of the 19 hijackers were from there. A 28-page section of the government's official report on the Sept. 11 attacks deals with the role foreign governments played in the plot, but that section remains classified and has not been released to the public.

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Obama will likely veto a bill that would revoke Saudi Arabia's sovereign immunity -- citing the disproportionate effect it could cause to the United States as it would potentially expose the country to countless lawsuits.

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"This is a matter of how ... the United States approaches our interactions with other countries," Obama told CBS. "If we open up the possibility that individuals and the United States can routinely start suing over governments, then we are also opening up the United States to being continually sued by individuals in other countries."

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