Mar 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: 9/11 families call out Biden for Saudi oil engagement

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seen during a meeting.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The chair of one of the most prominent 9/11 family coalitions has written to President Biden raising concerns about potential renewed U.S. engagement with Saudi Arabia, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: 9/11 Families United chair Terry Strada wants Biden to uphold his campaign pledge to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah," after Axios reported this week the president's advisers are discussing a possible trip to convince the Kingdom to pump more oil.

  • "We share Americans' 'pain at the pump,' and we recognize there are a number of important issues between our two countries, but any dialogue must include our years-long quest for justice and accountability," Strada wrote.
  • "No reset of our nation’s relationship with Saudi Arabia can be successful without proper reconciliation for the attacks on September 11, 2001."
  • The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The push to repair relations with the Saudis triggered outrage from progressives and activists. They continue to demand Biden hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

  • The letter from Strada, who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks, opens a new front in the pressure campaign to halt any movement toward warmer ties with Saudi Arabia.
  • 9/11 Families United represents 3,000 family members who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

The big picture: Biden moved last September to declassify thousands of pages of documents related to the FBI's investigation of the 9/11 attacks, fulfilling a years-long request from victims' families and raising tensions with Saudi Arabia.

  • While most of the hijackers were Saudi nationals, the Saudi government has long denied any involvement in the plot, and investigators have never established direct ties with the ruling royal family.
  • Documents declassified by the Biden administration, however, have detailed new information about support provided to two hijackers by U.S.-based Saudi nationals with diplomatic credentials.
  • Strada writes that evidence laid out in nearly 3,000 pages of declassified documents "confirms our long-held beliefs regarding Saudi Arabia’s deep involvement in the murders of our loved ones."

Flashback: Strada helped champion the push to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.

  • That landmark law allowed families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government.
  • The legislation plagued former President Obama, who vetoed the bill only to be overridden by a two-thirds majority in Congress.

Read the full letter.

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