Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Probe Is Not a Job For the U.N.

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

October 24, 2018, in the Wall Street Journal

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has justly triggered international outrage. Yet calls for a United Nations-led investigation are neither justified nor prudent.

Those urging the U.N. to investigate argue that with so much at stake, no sovereign state can be trusted to conduct a full and fair probe. And there is a potential for bias—by the Saudis, whose officials are implicated; by Turkey, a rival of Riyadh; and by the U.S., the Saudis’ longstanding strategic partner. The same is true of many other states, including Britain, France and Germany, all of which have economic and strategic interests in the region.

But this objection proves too much. There are numerous instances in which countries have been accused of terrible crimes, including torture and extrajudicial killings. The list includes the U.S. and every other permanent member of the Security Council. This standard would disqualify virtually every U.N. member.

The general rule is that sovereign states both have the authority and the obligation to put their own houses in order by investigating and prosecuting alleged offenses. Only in the most extreme circumstances can an international inquiry be justified—such as when the state concerned is incapable of undertaking the investigation, or when the alleged offenses rise to the level of widespread international crimes, for which international law prescribes individual criminal responsibility.

The classic examples are war crimes and crimes against humanity, neither at issue here. The murder of a specific person has very rarely been the subject of an international investigation, as in the case of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s 2005 assassination. Syrian and Hezbollah involvement was suspected, and the Lebanese government was unable to conduct an investigation free of interference. Beirut thus agreed to the Security Council resolution establishing an independent investigative commission. Yet that probe was shunned by most intelligence services and failed to bring to justice any high-level culprits.

In this instance, Saudi Arabia is fully capable of investigating Khashoggi’s death and has the greatest interest in the matter. Khashoggi was a Saudi national; so, it appears, are his killers. There is obvious concern about the fairness of a Saudi investigation because of the potential involvement of high-level officials close to the royal family, and the conflicting Saudi explanations have been justifiably criticized. Yet the kingdom has been a respected member of the international community and surely understands a whitewash would severely damage its standing.

Turkey, too, has legitimate interests here. If Riyadh officially sanctioned Khashoggi’s killing in its Istanbul consulate, it would be an abuse of the diplomatic rights Turkey affords another sovereign under treaty. The U.S. and other Western powers can and should support and assist both Riyadh’s and Ankara’s investigations.

The U.S. has a strong interest in preserving international legal norms, grounded in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which recognize the nation-state as the highest authority and establish rules that apply equally to all states. There is a determined movement to undermine this traditional system in favor of a supranational authority. These efforts have frequently targeted America, including its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, renditions, interrogations and drone strikes. These matters have elicited condemnations at the U.N. and demands for international investigations. The U.S. has properly opposed such demands because it can and does investigate the allegations itself.

This leaves us with only one solution, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it a few days ago: “We’re going to give them”—the Saudis and the Turks—“the space to complete their investigations of this incident, and when they issue their reports, we’ll form our judgment about the thoroughness, depth and the decisions they make about accountability connected to that.”

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice appellate and constitutional law and have argued before international legal bodies, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-probe-is-not-a-job-for-the-u-n-1540335772

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Now is the time to hit the Iranian regime with lower oil prices

For the sake of the Iranian people and global stability, we need to lead the effort in suppressing oil prices beyond what Tehran can bear.

Mass protests are gripping Iran as its people express their discontent with crippling poverty, governmental corruption, and Tehran’s highly expensive sponsorship of terrorist proxies around the Middle East. The protests are geographically widespread, rural and urban, and challenge the very sinews of Iran’s mullahcracy. The United States can and should support Iranian freedom by pressuring the regime at its most vulnerable point, oil revenues. This strategy should have long- and short-term components, both designed to decrease global oil prices.

Iran’s dire economic situation is at the heart of this discontent. As President Rouhani acknowledged, the government cannot meet payroll and is seeking to increase revenue and decrease expenditures. Since 80% of Iran’s budget comes from petroleum exports, the quickest and surest way to bring about regime change in Tehran is a broad campaign to reduce current global oil prices.

In order for Tehran to balance its budget, oil prices need to be around $130 per barrel, over twice what they are today. Several factors — including government-promised subsidies to wheat farmers and debt payment obligations that are headed toward default — are pushing Iran to the financial breaking point. Add to this the rising costs of Tehran’s military establishment, and the mullahs’ expanding commitment to fomenting chaos around the Arab world, and you have a recipe for financial meltdown. The doomsday scenario could only be avoided by a major rise in oil prices that would allow Iran, with 10% of proven global reserves, to rescue itself.

For the sake of the Iranian people and global stability, this cannot be allowed to happen. Washington should lead the effort. Tehran is a major American foe and a successful anti-mullahcracy effort would both improve Middle East security and enhance US global credibility.

There are four ways to suppress further the current low global oil prices. First, the ad hoc understanding between Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s first and second largest oil exporters respectively, to curtail oil output would need to be suspended. This would enable the Saudis, who have the highest spare capacity of any nation, to increase exports, driving down prices. Moscow would hate losing its key Middle Eastern ally and wouldn’t countenance such a suspension, but it cannot stop the Saudis, for whom Iran is also a major adversary.

Second, the United States should continue with its long-term efforts to increase both the U.S. oil output — which it has already done by just announcing a major expansion of offshore oil drilling — and increasing U.S. capacity to export oil and petroleum products by building additional pipelines and terminal facilities. While these efforts would exert some downward pressure on prices, they would need to be supplemented by the short-term measures, that are capable of having an immediate pricing impact. The key such measure would be an agreement between the United States and a Saudi-led coalition (along with UAE and Kuwait) to increase output, bringing the price down by at least $10 per barrel. Further, because Tehran suffers from a lack of indigenous capital and technology to increase sustained production capacity and hence oil exports, this same coalition should convince the few oil companies willing to invest in Iran’s upstream industry to put their efforts on hold.

Finally, because Tehran lacks access to foreign financial markets and American banks view investing in Iran as too risky, its only hope is in European, and to a much lesser extent Asian, banks. The Trump administration should send a strong message to European and Asian banks that their access to U.S. capital markets will be endangered, if they float credits to Tehran in any form.

One might ask why Saudi Arabia, a nation that also depends heavily on oil revenues, would support a lower price. The answer is simple cost-benefit analysis. Blocking Iran’s drive for regional hegemony is the kingdom’s highest foreign policy priority. The Saudis are spending tens of billions of dollars attempting to stabilize nations such as LebanonBahrain and Palestine and fighting wars in Yemen and Syria against Iranian destabilization efforts. Not only are the Saudis eager to shrink these expenditures, but with about $500 billion in foreign reserves and one of the cheapest oil extraction costs in the world, they can withstand lower petroleum prices for years if necessary. In short, the regime change that low oil prices would bring in Iran represents a vital foreign policy boon and overall financial savings over the mid to long-term for the kingdom.

Tehran simply cannot survive a sustained $50 per barrel price. All those wishing to bring an end to the decades of widespread terror caused by this so-called Islamic Republic, and support the Iranian people in their own demands for change, should commit to the above-mentioned measures. Only the oil weapon can end this repressive regime.

David B. Rivkin Jr. served in the Departments of Justice and Energy and the White House Counsel’s Office during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations.  Nawaf E. Obaid, a visiting fellow for intelligence & defence projects at Harvard’s Belfer Center, is a former advisor to the Saudi government.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/01/07/wielding-oil-weapon-against-iran-best-way-end-its-oppressive-regime-david-rivkin-nawaf-obaid-column/1005225001/

Hold On Jasta Minute!

Legal tradition says that hard cases make bad law. Few cases are harder than those having to do with the plight of the families of 9/11 victims.

This led Congress to adopt the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Jasta, as it is known, gives federal courts the power to determine whether a foreign state has intentionally sponsored terror against American citizens. This power, however, belongs to the president and cannot be constitutionally wielded by the judiciary.

Jasta was enacted in September over President Obama’s veto. Although the law mentions no particular state, its target is clearly Saudi Arabia. The families of 9/11 victims have long sought money damages from the kingdom, based on the Saudi citizenship of most of the 9/11 attackers and planners.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 gives countries immunity from being sued in federal courts. Jasta strips that immunity from any country the court finds acted with a culpable level of intent in sponsoring a terrorist attack on American soil. Mere negligence is insufficient under the law. In making this determination, the courts will also inevitably be branding the relevant state as a sponsor of terrorism.

A federal judge’s determination that Saudi Arabia intended to sponsor the 9/11 attacks would greatly strain U.S.-Saudi relations. More generally, whether the U.S. should identify any particular state as a terrorism sponsor is a supremely sensitive foreign-policy decision, involving myriad factors and rendering impossible U.S. cooperation with such a state.

For this reason, the Constitution reserves such determinations to the political branches of government, and more particularly to the president, who is principally responsible for the formulation and implementation of American foreign policy.

If a president decides to classify a nation as a sponsor of terrorism, Congress can define the consequences, including depriving such states of the sovereign immunity from lawsuit that they ordinarily enjoy in U.S. courts. It cannot, however, force a president to make such a determination. Nor can Congress vest such decision-making authority in the courts.

The Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Zivotofsky v. Kerry is instructive here. The court struck down Congress’s effort to require the executive branch to recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel by permitting American citizens born there to have their passports indicate “Israel” as their birthplace. It said, “these matters are committed to the Legislature and the Executive, not the Judiciary.”

The judiciary doesn’t have access to the sort of information that would enable it to determine the motives of a foreign state. And even if it did, deciding whether to classify a country as a sponsor of terrorism is a task inherently ill-suited for judicial discernment. Recognizing and acting upon such information lies at the very core of the president’s foreign-affairs powers.

Jasta’s enactment has already damaged U.S.-Saudi relations and has alarmed many traditional U.S. allies, who understandably do not like the outsourcing of sensitive foreign-policy issues to the American judiciary and private litigants. Jasta is unconstitutional and should be struck down as such.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/hold-on-jasta-minute-1480551317