Obama vetoes Sept. 11 Saudi bill; says would hurt national security

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Friday vetoed legislation allowing families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, a move expected to prompt the U.S. Congress to overturn his decision with a rare veto override, the first of his presidency.

Obama said the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act would hurt U.S. national security. The bill passed earlier this month in reaction to long-running suspicions, denied by Saudi Arabia, that hijackers of the four U.S. jetliners that attacked the United States in 2001 were backed by the Saudi government.

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Obama said other countries could use the law, known as JASTA, as an excuse to sue U.S. diplomats, service members or companies - even for actions of foreign organizations that had received U.S. aid, equipment or training.

"Removing sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that are not designated as state sponsors of terrorism, based solely on allegations that such foreign governments' actions abroad had a connection to terrorism-related injuries on U.S. soil, threatens to undermine these longstanding principles that protect the United States, our forces, and our personnel," Obama said in a statement.

RELATED: See the most iconic images from 9/11

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15 most iconic images from September 11, 2001 and aftermath
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15 most iconic images from September 11, 2001 and aftermath
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This September 11, 2001 file photo shows US President George W. Bush interrupted by his Chief of Staff Andrew Card(L) shortly after news of the New York City airplane crashes was available in Sarasota, Florida.

(Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 (L) flies toward the World Trade Center twin towers shortly before slamming into the south tower as the north tower burns following an earlier attack by a hijacked airliner in New York City September 11, 2001. The stunning aerial assaults on the huge commercial complex where more than 40,000 people worked on an ordinary day were part of a coordinated attack aimed at the nation's financial heart. They destroyed one of America's most dramatic symbols of power and financial strength and left New York reeling. (REUTERS/Sean Adair)

The second tower of the World Trade Center explodes into flames after being hit by a airplane, New York September 11, 2001 with the Brooklyn bridge in the foreground. Both towers of the complex collapsed after being hit by hijacked planes.

(REUTERS/Sara K. Schwittek)

Photo shows the point of impact where a plane crashed into the North tower of the World Trade Center in New York City early September 11, 2001. Three hijacked planes crashed into major U.S. landmarks on Tuesday, destroying both of New York's mighty twin towers and plunging the Pentagon in Washington into flames, in an unprecedented assault on key symbols of U.S. military and financial power.

(Jeff Christensen / Reuters)

This 11 September 2001 file photo shows Marcy Borders covered in dust as she takes refuge in an office building after one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed in New York. Borders was caught outside on the street as the cloud of smoke and dust enveloped the area.

(Photo credit STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

A true-color image taken by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) aboard the Landsat 7 satellite on September 12, 2001 shows New York City and the smoldering World Trade Center following the September 11, 2001 attacks in this handout photo courtesy of NASA. The image was captured at roughly 11:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

(REUTERS/NASA/Handout)

A person falls to their death from the World Trade Center after two planes hit the Twin Towers September 11, 2001 in New York City.

(Photo by Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images)

The south tower of the World Trade Center collapses September 11, 2001 in New York City.

(Thomas Nilsson/ Getty Images)

This 11 September 2001 file photo shows pedestrians running from the scene as one of the World Trade Center towers collapses in New York City following a terrorist plane crash on the twin towers.

(DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Rescue operations at Ground Zero; Firefighters finding victims and searching for survivors at the wreckage of the World Trade Center Towers following Tuesday's Terrorist attack in New York, United states on September 14, 2001.

(Photo by Graham MORRISON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Rescue workers carry fatally injured New York City Fire Depatment Chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, from one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, early September 11, 2001. Both towers were hit by planes crashing into the buildings and collapsed a short time later.

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

The damaged area of the Pentagon building, where a hijacked commercial jetliner slammed into it September 11, 2001, is seen in this file photo with the U.S. Capitol Building in the background, at sunrise on September 16, 2001.

(REUTERS/Larry Downing)

Firefighters raise a U.S. flag at the site of the World Trade Center after two hijacked commercial airliners were flown into the buildings September 11, 2001 in New York.

(Photo by 2001 The Record (Bergen Co. NJ)/Getty Images)

A New York City fireman calls for more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble of the World Trade Center September 15, 2001.

(REUTERS/Handout/U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres)

Members of the New York Fire and Police Departments salute as a truck carrying the last steel column of the World Trade Center moves up West Street from inside of the World Trade Center site May 30, 2002 as the recovery effort at Ground Zero officially ends in New York.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who has championed the measure, immediately made clear how difficult it will be for Obama to sustain the veto.

If two-thirds of the lawmakers in each of the Senate and House of Representatives vote to override Obama's veto, the law would stand, the first such override since he became president in 2009. Obama leaves office in January.

Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, issued a statement within moments of receiving the veto promising that it would be "swiftly and soundly overturned."

A group of survivors and families have pressed Congress to uphold the legislation, calling Obama's veto explanation "unconvincing and unsupportable."

The Saudi government has lobbied heavily to stop the bill, as has the European Union.

Major U.S. corporations such as General Electric and Dow Chemical have also pressed lawmakers to reconsider.

"The bill is not balanced, sets a dangerous precedent, and has real potential to destabilize vital bilateral relationships and the global economy," GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who backs the legislation.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool)

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