Ambassador Westphal’s Remarks at ABGR General Membership Breakfast

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I want to thank ABGR, its Chairman Dan Cagle and the ABGR Board for your leadership in building stronger, deeper, and more prosperous business relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The ABGR has been a champion of U.S. business interests in Saudi Arabia for many years, giving a vital voice to the American business community in the Kingdom.

I also want to take this opportunity to recognize my new Deputy Chief of Mission Chris Henzel who comes with extensive regional, economic and commercial experience.

I am excited to have Chris as my deputy and look forward to tapping into his immense experience and advice on several fronts.

Likewise, I want to also recognize my economic and commercial counselors Doug Wallace and Doug Apostol for their hard work in building strong relations with you the business community.

So, let me Focus on Building Partnerships among USG, Saudi Arabia, and the Business Community.

The enduring political, economic and commercial ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia remain strong.

After the meeting with His Royal Highness, the Deputy Crown Prince, President Obama commended the “Prince’s commitment to reform Saudi Arabia’s economy and he underscored strong U.S. support for achieving the recently-announced Vision 2030 goals.”

We all know how important these efforts are to transform the economy, the financial strength of the Kingdom, the social and cultural connections to the rest of the world and of course the commercial and business opportunities needed for employment and modernization.

Our global economy, world politics, environmental and demographic trends, terrorism and war…challenge us everywhere and we face all of these in this region.

Our strong relationship with the Kingdom will have its challenges but we must persevere in the belief that building bridges and strengthening friendships by trade and development is the best way forward.

One example a challenge that requires us to work on building bridges is the recently passed Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.

We acknowledge the concerns of our partners here and around the world regarding this new law.

The President was very clear when he vetoed the bill. His message stated:

“First, JASTA threatens to reduce the effectiveness of our response to indications that a foreign government has taken steps outside our borders to provide support for terrorism… by taking such matters out of the hands of national security and foreign policy professionals and placing them in the hands of private litigants and courts.

Second, JASTA would upset longstanding international principles regarding sovereign immunity, putting in place rules that, if applied globally, could have serious implications for U.S. national interests.

The United States has a larger international presence, by far, than any other country, and sovereign immunity principles protect our Nation and its Armed Forces, officials, and assistance professionals, from foreign court proceedings.

And third, JASTA threatens to create complications in our relationships with even our closest partners.

If JASTA were enacted, courts could potentially consider even minimal allegations accusing U.S. allies or partners of complicity in a particular terrorist attack in the United States.”

Well, the bill was enacted and as the President said in at the end his statement,

“this is a crucial time when we are trying to build coalitions, not create divisions.”

However, the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia is based on a wide range of interests…has stood the test of time…and will be enduring despite this legislation.
We will continue to work with the Government of Saudi Arabia on strengthening our longstanding bilateral relationship and on some of the most pressing global and regional issues.

Let me say a little about opportunities for Economic and Commercial Engagement under Vision 2030 and the NTP.

Saudi Arabia is in the initial stages of articulating and implementing its ambitious and far-reaching socio-economic transformation plan under Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program..

The Kingdom is embarking on the next stage of its socio-economic development through a plan to diversify its economy, reduce its dependence on oil, and create millions of jobs for its people, particularly women and youth.

Because the United States is a key strategic and economic partner of Saudi Arabia, we are committed to helping the Kingdom achieve these objectives.

President Obama reaffirmed this commitment when he met with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House this June.

As part of this commitment, the U.S. government is developing an economic engagement plan for supporting the Saudi government as it translates its Vision 2030 and NTP aspirations into reality.

Saudi Arabia values the unique ingenuity and creativity of U.S. companies that helped it discover and sustainably manage its vast oil resources, starting in the early 1930s.

These unique qualities are as much in demand today as they were eighty years ago to help the Kingdom realize its next developmental objectives envisioned in its socio-economic transformation plans.

I want to challenge ABGR that as Saudi Arabia seeks to diversify and transform its economy, this organization consider how we, in government and business, can work with our Saudi partners to achieve their goals while enhancing economic growth, jobs and entrepreneurship in America.

My commercial and economic teams are ready to discuss opportunities and challenges under Vision 2030 and the NTP.

I encourage you to engage us as you contemplate your next moves regarding the plans.

Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to transform its economy would largely depend on its continued ability to build a talented and motivated workforce.

Education, and most importantly, primary and secondary education is among their most important tools.

Labor laws, legal systems, commercial regulations, and a host of other sectors will have to adapt to changes that will enable more Saudis to work and fully reach their potential.

We can help play a role in all these areas.

For example, in terms of higher education, the United States has been a longstanding and trusted partner in building the kingdom’s workforce.

The Embassy works hard to assist thousands of Saudi students find the right school in the United States and acquire the skills and knowhow needed for the Kingdom’s economic development.

I encourage you to engage successfully returning Saudi students as you pursue opportunities in the local economy.

Consistent with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, we are ready to do everything we can to promote economic opportunities for women and the youth while advancing U.S. business interests.

I believe that businesses that continually adapt to the new environment while pursuing their core business objectives have always met with success around the world and are likely to succeed in Saudi Arabia.

Closing Remarks

Let me also mention our strong and enduring security relationship with the Kingdom.

The support of the Crown Prince, His Royal Highness, Mohammed bin Naïf, is a significant factor in strengthening our trade and business relationship given the nature of the environment in this region.

Finally…let me conclude by reiterating my commitment to working closely and productively with the American business community in Saudi Arabia.

Nothing says it better than seeing those business and commercial relationships in every corner of this country.

I urge you to continue what you do so well.

The jobs you create, the vocational training and skills you impart, the business solutions you offer, and the community programs you sponsor contribute to overall economic development and a better quality of life for many people and communities in the Kingdom.

And I salute you for that.

I wish you fruitful discussions and look forward to continue working with you.

Thank you very much!

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About the Author
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Ambassador Joseph W. Westphal

Joseph W. Westphal was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on March 26, 2014. Prior to this appointment, Ambassador Westphal was the Under Secretary of the Army and its Chief Management Officer from 2009 to 2014. In that capacity, Secretary Westphal managed a force of more than one million soldiers and several hundred thousand civilians. He also held the positions of Assistant Secretary of the Army in the Clinton Administration and Acting Secretary of the Army in the Bush Administration. Ambassador Westphal's career spans more than 40 years of service in higher education and government. He has taught at Oklahoma State University, Georgetown University and the University of Maine where he was also Chancellor of the University System. In government, he worked in both the House and Senate for more than twelve years. He held positions in the administrations of Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama, working in the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Defense. Ambassador Westphal and his wife Linda have four children and seven grandchildren.