The new Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Abdullah, was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at a breakfast reception on Friday, December 11, 2015. The U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Joseph Westphal was among the speakers at the event who welcomed Prince Abdullah. He said he was a “man of the world, very experienced, very level headed, good businessman, highly respected in his own country. An important voice for his country here but also an important voice for us in his country.” Prince Abdullah was introduced by Chamber President Tom Donahue who mentioned the inaugural session of the “CEO Dialogue” in Riyadh on January 24, 2016. Donahue said, “Through this private sector dialogue we are going to help implement the economic vision of the 21st Century strategic partnership laid out by his majesty [King Salman] during his meeting with President Obama.” The U.S. Chamber event was organized in association with the Saudi Chambers of Commerce, the Committee for International Trade (CIT) and the Saudi-US Trade Group (SUSTG). Eng. Omar Bahlaiwa, CIT Secretary General, commented on the relationship with the U.S. Chamber, “I see an institutional, sustainable relationship between the two private sectors and the bodies of the U.S. Chamber and the Council of Saudi Chambers.”
Today we are pleased to provide our transcript of the event along with audio clips from the speakers.
US-Saudi Arabia – Partnership for the 21st Century
Welcoming the New Saudi Ambassador
December 11, 2015
US Chamber of Commerce
Council of Saudi Chambers
Committee for International Trade
Saudi-US Trade Group
- Welcoming Remarks – Khush Choksy, Vice President, Middle East Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- Engineer Omar Bahlaiwa, Secretary General, Committee for International Trade, Council of Saudi Chambers
- Introduction of Ambassador Westphal – Myron Brilliant, Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs, US Chamber of Commerce
- Featured Remarks – Joseph Westphal, US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
- Introduction of Abdullah Al Saud – Thomas Donahue, President & CEO, US Chamber of Commerce
- Keynote Remarks – Abdullah Al Saud, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States
[KHUSH CHOKSY] Good morning everyone. My name is Khush Choksy.
I’m the U.S. Chamber’s Vice President for the Middle East and Turkey. His Excellency Ambassador Abdullah al Saud, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States; Ambassador Joseph Westphal, the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Deputy Governor of SAGIA, the investment promotion agency; Omar Bahlaiwa, the Secretary General of our partner, the Council of Saudi Chambers; Ambassador Charles Rifkin, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs; our company representatives and in particular companies that are members of the U.S. Chamber’s U.S.-Saudi Business program.
I would also like to acknowledge the support of our President and CEO Tom Donahue and Myron Brilliant, the Executive VP and head of international affairs, on our efforts to further the bilateral commercial relationship.
Subsequent to His Majesty’s visit to Washington in September the U.S. Chamber and the Council of Saudi Chambers with support and in close cooperation with the government of Saudi Arabia and our own government have launched a number of programs to enhance the bilateral commercial relationship.
Over the course of just the last three weeks we have held a number of workshops in the health care arena in Saudi Arabia, the most recent being this Monday where my team was in Saudi Arabia.
We have a number of speakers this morning and it is my pleasure to introduce Mr. Omar Bahlaiwa, the Secretary General of the Committee of International Trade of the Council of Saudi Chambers.
We look forward to hearing your remarks, Omar.
Opening Remarks – Mr. Khush Choksy, Vice President, Middle East Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Engineer Omar Bahlaiwa, Secretary General, Committee for International Trade, Council of Saudi Chambers
Committee for International Trade (CIT) Secretary General Omar Bahlaiwa. (SUSTG Photo)
[OMAR BAHLAIWA] [Greeting in Arabic] Your royal highnesses, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. It’s my pleasure to be here. I really appreciate the hospitality of the U.S. Chamber.
I see an institutional, sustainable relationship between the two private sectors and the bodies of the U.S. Chamber and the Council of Saudi Chambers. From here I think this is a beginning for a long lasting relationship in the private sector. Hopefully we’ll see higher bilateral trade, higher investments, and higher people-to-people communications, especially since we have in your custody one hundred thousand plus Saudi students who will be your future ambassadors to Saudi Arabia.
Thank you very much and I hope you enjoy your breakfast. I cannot wait to listen to His Highness Prince Abdullah’s remarks today.
Thank you very much.
[MYRON BRILLIANT] Okay, if I can get your attention. Hopefully you’ve all had a chance to enjoy your breakfast. Kush Choksy did a great job of recognizing many of the people in this room. We’re very proud of the government officials on both, well from Saudi Arabia as well as from the United States who are here with us today.
There are many distinguished people who have served in government with us here today, but one person he did not recognize was himself. So I just want to begin by giving Khush Choksy and his team a great deal of encouragement, support, and acknowledgment because today the Middle East program of the U.S. Chamber is the fastest growing part of the international division despite the uncertainty in the region. I give Khush and his team all the credit in the world for the work they’ve done to promote our relationship with this important region in the world. So Khush, congratulations.
I will say there’s a guy sitting at the head table with white hair who’s had some role in this also and he’ll have a chance to get up here in a minute. I think his name is Tom Donahue and he’s my boss, and I’m grateful for the support he’s also provided not only for our work across the board, around the world but also for our work and our support of increasing commercial ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
I was sitting next to Charlie Rifkin, the Assistant Secretary of State who served as Ambassador to Paris, and it reminds me and all of us of the tragedy that unfolded in Paris a few weeks back that no matter where we are in the world we have to be concerned about terrorism and about the export of that. So it’s very important that as we think about the world we live in today, the uncertainty of the global economy, the uncertainty around terrorism that we remind ourselves that it’s important that we get closer to our friends, that we work even harder with our friendship, and we have a great relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The Chamber has a long-standing record of engagement with Saudi Arabia, and our efforts to date have been important, but our future commitment is even greater. You’ll hear Tom Donahue talk about a new dialogue that we are developing between our two countries, a CEO dialogue, that I think will serve to enhance and strengthen and reaffirm the importance of the commercial relationship between the two countries.
As we all know the geostrategic importance of this relationship at a time where the world is suffering and struggling and where there is uncertainty in the Middle East, in particular, this relationship is of paramount importance. And as we look to strengthen economic ties at a time where there’s great uncertainty around energy prices we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to advance this commercial relationship. So whether it’s energy, whether it’s defense, whether it’s in education – Ambassador Abdullah al-Saud was talking about the one hundred and twenty thousand students that study here in the United States from his country.
So whether we are talking about those issues or the issue of health care where the Chamber recently conducted two forums, one on biopharmaceuticals and a recent health care forum just this past week to emphasize the great depth and potential of this commercial relationship, we stand committed to expand ties.
Now, we have two great ambassadors working to improve the relationship. Tom in a moment will introduce the Saudi Ambassador. Both these ambassadors I believe are in the building for the first time. But both have a very long, distinguished career, and I’m here to introduce Ambassador Westphal.
He was first on the ground in March of 2014. His career spans more than forty years of service in higher education and government including in the great state of Oklahoma as a professor.
He has served recently as Undersecretary of the Army and its chief management officer from 2009 to 2014. I think it’s safe to say the President picked someone with quite a diverse background to emphasize the importance of a broad relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. But in his role before he became Ambassador he managed a force of more than one million soldiers and several hundred thousand civilians so he has a great depth of experience.
We’re delighted he is serving as our Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and we’re delighted to begin working with him. He does have a connection to the man sitting next to him, Tom Donahue. They both went to Adelphi University, and so there’s something good there as well. Please give him a big warm, U.S. Chamber appreciation as we welcome Ambassador Joseph Westphal up to the stage. We’re very delighted to have you here.
Introduction of Ambassador Westphal – Myron Brilliant, Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs, US Chamber of Commerce and Featured Remarks – Joseph Westphal, US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Joseph Westphal (SUSTG Photo)
[AMBASSADOR JOSEPH WESTPHAL] Thank you, Myron. You ARE brilliant.
Well thank you all very much. Tom, thanks for hosting this event today. I thought it was a great idea to do a pre-meeting and then have a more robust meeting to follow up on the conversations that began with the visit of King Salman to President Obama and to initiate this sort of large plan which we’ve been working very diligently back in Saudi Arabia with our partners in the government at all levels.
I want to first just acknowledge – there’s tons of people that I could say hello to. I came in, I only saw a few old friends, but two that I want to acknowledge is my predecessor, Ambassador Jim Smith. Thank you for your service, big shoes to fill. You did a great job, Jim.
And an old friend from the Pentagon, our former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Winnefield – take a bow – and I mention him because we had regular daily meetings of the top leadership of the department and he brought, I thought, a lot of common sense and a lot of good ideas.
We tended to agree on a lot of the premises that we worked from, he and I, and I think that that kind of approach is what we need today as we deal with the complexity of the issues in our region.
We are of course focused at a time when the terrorism picture is front and center in all the news media. I’m sure your families and my family and others are constantly questioning not only what we’re doing on not only our strategy or policy – why are we not doing this, why are we doing this – but they’re also questioning even our involvement and engagement. So I think – and part of our mission over the next few years, and it is going to take time — is to really gain some very much needed stronger understanding on every aspect – cultural, religious, educational – a greater understanding of our two communities.
We do some polling in Saudi Arabia and we get polling from other places and the one thing that’s pretty stark is one is that there is very little understanding between our two societies. On the average if you talk to Americans in middle America they would know very little about Saudi Arabia, about its history, its culture, its people, et cetera. What they know about Saudi Arabia is on CNN.
Similarly, I think for them their experience, particularly the younger generation, you have to remember grew up with the Iraq War and that’s their memory of our engagement. And the memory that they have is of our military being present. And so yeah, we have scholarships, ways of connecting. We try to do more in that regard, but that’s also a one-way street. That’s them coming here, that’s not necessarily us going there.
Where we have the strongest connection is in this room. It’s in our commercial trade relationship that is very strong and enduring. And we track, by the way, we track statistically how U.S. investment is doing in the Kingdom despite all the situations around us: Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Da’esh, you name it, and it continues to grow. Albeit it’s not growing at some of the same rates it was growing years ago. Now, you can’t take credit for that, Jim, but it is growing a little slower but it is growing. It is not coming down.
In other words we don’t find that American businesses are reluctant to invest, are reluctant to develop joint partnerships. Probably the most difficult piece and the one thing that I’ve got my mission now working on very aggressively is to identify the roadblocks that would move this relationship even more – it would move this relationship to a quicker and a higher level than it’s been today.
There are impediments and they are occasional, but they are impediments that get in the way as they get advertised across industry. Whether it’s impediments to getting a visa. Whether it’s impediments to building a relationship with a Saudi counterpart. Whether it’s impediments in tax issues, you name it, whatever it may be the bureaucracy of Saudi Arabia is big and it is cumbersome.
We have our own bureaucracy, but that bureaucracy can stymie things from time to time. So we’ve been working a lot to try to do this. And they realize this. The new government realizes that they’ve got to be more nimble, quicker, more responsive.
They came here last December with the King, they came here because, and proposed this tremendous plan, because they are absolutely convinced that we provide the best opportunity for technology, for innovation, for creativity.
We have the best supply chain, we have the best labor force, we do the best quality of work, we stand by our work, and we’re there for the lifetime.
We have the strongest small and medium sized business contingent in the world, so whatever it is that’s needed all of you can find places to get it. They know that, and they know that they can’t get that anywhere else in the world.
They could buy a few things from France. They could buy a few things from Germany, Russia, in other countries. But at the end of the day their best choice is this country.
So we agree with that, we think they are also good partners with us. We think we can build great relationships there, and if we can build an economy that really does help to educate their workforce, improve their educational quality, improve their health care, not just to grow it in the big cities but to develop a health care system that is nationwide for them.
They have huge shortages of housing. So anything to do with infrastructure and real estate and real estate development is something that they’re going to benefit from.
Obviously the big industries of mining and oil and gas are tremendous opportunities to continue to do a lot of investment.
So my mission is focused on looking at ways in which we can reduce the complexity of doing business. Now, when Ambassador Jubeir – excuse me, he was already foreign minister. Foreign Minister Jubeir, when we came to the meeting, we met early on he and I, and he presented the first draft of this plan, the U.S.-Saudi strategic plan for the 21st Century. And he laid it our there talking about tourism, bringing American universities into the Kingdom such as has been done in other Gulf countries, building two Disneylands in the Kingdom, advancing tourism. Very, very grandiose plan, and for all of us very welcome ideas.
One of the first questions I asked, I was pretty frank. I said okay, well a lot of this is going to come head to head with certain cultural issues that Americans and Europeans and others will have. The separation of women, the inability of women to move about freely. In our business sectors women lead giant enterprises. Some of the biggest corporations are lead by women. The idea that you’re going to have a workforce where you separate the women. The women are in one room and the men are in another and they can’t interact, and women can’t drive and the women can’t go to this restaurant.
Those are things that you’re going to have not just in the business sector, you’re going to have them in tourism, you’re certainly going to have them in education.
And if you want American students to come and study in Saudi Arabia, which we would like, which we think is a good idea, you can’t segregate them. We have dealt with the issue of segregation and we have put that behind us and we can’t advance it in other places where it’s not appropriate.
So I’m not telling you how to do this or what you have to do, but I’m just saying those are the obstacles that you as a country are going to face. And Minister Jubeir agreed. He’s well-versed in our society. He’s a good friend and someone I can talk to frankly as is my new colleague Ambassador Abdullah, and I want to say a few words about him before I leave. I want to leave the good part until the end.
So I think I would urge you, and I would urge the Chamber and Tom Donahue and the leadership here who have incredible experience, to not shy away from those issues, to not shy away from confronting those things that from a cultural and a business standpoint are going to create problems for our industry.
We have, as you know in our mission we have a – I may have one of the best teams of any embassy in the region right now. Some of it was luck because you have a bidding process that some of us don’t have a lot to say about, but we are very, very fortunate to have a top-notch team at literally every level.
So for the management of the embassy, the economic sections or political sections, our political-military section, our defense attache, our foreign commercial service, our treasury attache, our agricultural attache. We are doing extremely well with the people we have. Very experienced, very seasoned, and a very good bench in all those sections.
So we are energized and prepared to help you do what you need to do, to help you build those relationships, to connect you with Saudi companies, to help you advance whatever you need to advance in terms of ideas, thoughts, put meetings together, put conferences together.
We’re also working very hard, and this is where I’m going to be seeking more of the advice of His Excellency the Ambassador, we’re seeking to really strengthen their bench.
The Saudi government is very hierarchical, and so most people here who want to come to Saudi Arabia regardless of rank or serial number, the first thing they say to me is they want to meet with the King.
Well the King is a head of state, and in my view most people aren’t at that level to meet with a head of state. We don’t go to President Obama and ask him to do every meeting for the U.S. government.
But the reason for that is that most people realize unless you meet with the top person you can’t get a decision and you can’t have the impact. Well I think you can. I think there are very good people in the second or third tier.
We need to engage with them more. We need to empower them more by engaging with them. So when you come don’t hesitate to meet. We’ll advise you who they are.
You can seek the Ambassador’s advice as to the quality of these people, but there are terrific people that are at the second or third tier who are knowledgeable, highly educated, well-versed in their area, and they’re the ones that we need to be engaging and empowering because that’s what’s going to break down the bureaucratic problems that we sometimes face when people tell us we can’t make a decision on this until it goes to the top level.
So work with our folks, be sure to connect with those sectors, and we hope that we can be a meaningful resource for you throughout all this.
And finally let me just say that Saudi Arabia is the largest user in the world, perhaps, of social media and technologically it’s very advanced. That poses both an advantage and a challenge, and for us it’s both.
So we’re trying to also manage the way we move social media in the Kingdom, and I don’t know to what extent your companies are engaged in any of that, but I think that’s something to pay attention to. It’s a very quick and easy way to advance ideas among the population. I’m learning to use it more and more. I was always very afraid of it in the Pentagon. I don’t have Twitter. I don’t have Facebook, but I actually do because it’s run by the Embassy and they do Twitter, but it’s very conservative and I never read it.
So I don’t even have an account where I can go in and read it, they have to like provide it to me. And part of it is we’re all worried about the cyber piece, and cyber is an area by the way that they’re very interested in, seriously interested in, so any of you who have capabilities in that area if you want to work on it. But be aware of the power of social media and to the extent that it can help you in your business ventures there I certainly would encourage you to do it.
And so I’ll end by saying that we are also very fortunate to have an outstanding person to be our friend and representative from the Kingdom here in the United States, Prince Abdullah bin Turki. I got to know him pretty well in Riyadh. We spent some time together.
He’s a – if he invites you to dinner I absolutely think you should accept. He’s a three star chef. He’ll serve you only organic foods. You’ll be safe. He’s a man of the world, very experienced, very level headed, good businessman, highly respected in his own country. An important voice for his country here but also an important voice for us in his country.
One of the first things I did is I brought him into the U.S. Embassy and introduced him to all of our sections. We had a session with him to basically tell him how we operate and extended our invitation that if any time he needed any support whatsoever from us that we were ready to extend ourselves to him and to his embassy staff.
So you’re getting a great man to represent the Kingdom here. I’m very pleased that he was chosen and I look forward very much to working with him and with all of you.
Thank you very much.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donahue (SUSTG Photo)
[TOM DONAHUE] Well thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. We’re going to be doing a lot of Mr. Ambasadors today. You know we have them all over the place, but we’re very pleased to have you here and as you just indicated excited about the potential of a new Ambassador from the Kingdom.
As I’m sure most of you know I’m Tom Donahue. I run the Chamber, well at least I pretend to. We’ve got an extraordinary group of people here that carry on our work here and around the world every day, and you saw Myron Brilliant. I spend a good deal of my time continually pressing Myron forward. He’s a great talent and has built a global system for us I think that’s second to none, and one of the reasons is that he worked very hard to build a team who you see operating here and we appreciate all of them.
I would also mention that H.P. Goldfield who was a member of our board has been involved with the Saudi Kingdom and the leadership for many, many years and he’s an extraordinary advisor to us. I always tell Myron I keep H.P. around because I want to get another point of view.
So thank you all for being here today.
You know, it was 70 years ago when the U.S. President and the Saudi King met for the first time. In an American warship in the aftermath of World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and King Saud built a remarkable rapport that helped establish one of the most enduring friendships that existed between nations then and today.
Though there have been some challenges and disagreements along the way that friendship has spanned five Saudi Kings and twelve U.S. Presidents, and an unbelievable part of our global history. But just because the relationship is long-standing and deeply rooted doesn’t mean that we can’t take concrete steps to further strengthen it.
In fact, our partnership must evolve to meet the challenges and the changes that we face all across the globe. We’ve always believed that the economic relationship underpins our strategic relationship here and around the globe, and as regional and geopolitical circumstances shift and grow more dire, I would say, it’s more important than ever before to foster these strong and stable economies.
Deeper economic engagement between our nations can help accomplish that goal. Our leaders recognize the need to strengthen our economic ties and have made this a part of their strategic vision for the 21st Century in both countries.
And by the way I would say in this building, the Chamber has set a very aggressive set of objectives for the expansion of our relationship with the Kingdom because of its value on its own and because of the ability to move out from Saudi Arabia to expand our economic relationships in a broader way.
I had the honor to meet His Majesty Salman during his visit in September and hearing his thoughts on the path forward. His engagement with U.S. business leaders was especially encouraging and it helped pave the way, I think, for U.S. and Saudi private sector partners to play a leading role in the future of this economic partnership and ultimately that’s why all of us are here today.
We have a solid foundation for building a better, stronger commercial partnership. That’s a fact.
Saudi Arabia is the tenth largest goods trading partner with the United States and its eighth largest supplier as a goods importer. U.S. foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia is 10 billion dollars, but there is a potential for much, much more, especially as the Kingdom takes major steps to diversify its economy.
U.S. companies have long enjoyed mutually beneficial commercial relationships in the well-established energy and security areas. Now clearly we want to expand our investment and our engagement into health care information, communications technology, minerals and mining, renewable energy, and other sectors that support a competitive and innovative economy.
U.S. companies can help make growing Saudi companies more competitive, foster innovation in the Kingdom’s knowledge-based sectors and help new small and medium sized enterprise blossom.
Mr. Ambassador your points about the strength of America’s small and medium sized companies is very significant.
We want some of America’s fastest growing new economy companies and their CEOs to join us as a partner with Saudi Arabian companies to create competitive platforms for growth.
We also support Saudi Arabia’s efforts to develop a talented pool of young professionals. There are currently over ninety thousand Saudi students studying at American universities through scholarships provided by the Saudi government. We commend this investment and we see these well-educated students as a resource for American companies doing business with Saudi Arabia and doing business across the region.
To support all of these efforts the U.S. Chamber established the U.S.-Saudi business program. Its broad objective is to enhance and deepen the bilateral commercial and investment relationships between our countries.
We’ve forged a close and productive relationship with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, especially during his time as the U.S. Ambassador to the United States, and he lived right down the hill from me – it was sort of a different neighborhood – but it was the best thing. We had all the formal meetings but the best thing to do was to go over to the residence, have a glass of tomato juice, and talk about the problems of the world. We’re very pleased that he is now their Foreign Minister.
We’re working closely with key partners including the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority and the Ministry of Commerce. In the last three weeks we’ve held two forums in the Kingdom focusing on the health care sector.
One with deputy governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority and almost twenty Saudi government officials from numerous agencies, and we’re working hand in hand with the Saudi business community.
In 2014 we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Council of Saudi Chambers joining together our countries’ biggest business associations, and that has been very productive.
Today I’m pleased to mention several ways to enhance this private sector partnership. We’re going to continue our important work in the health sector and other industries that are essential to the Saudi Kingdom and together with the Council of Saudi Chambers we’ll launch the U.S.-Saudi Arabian CEO Dialogue in Riyadh next month. Gee, it’s next month.
I kept saying it’s three months away – it’s here. Through this private sector dialogue we are going to help implement the economic vision of the 21st Century strategic partnership laid out by his majesty during his meeting with President Obama. Our goal is to strengthen our trade and investment ties, expand our commercial relationships, and increase our collaboration in knowledge-based sectors.
We will provide opportunities for participants to exchange ideas, to build mutual trust and understanding, and to reach a common goal on key trade, regulatory, and investment issues.
We will pursue practical, tangible outcomes and provide concrete, constructive recommendations to lead us at the highest levels of both governments. Our two organizations are strongly committed to this effort and we believe it has the potential to achieve unsurpassed results. We have a solid foundation to build on, willing partners, and the right forums, mechanisms, and engagement, and there’s a lot of room to move and grow.
As we plan for the official launch in Riyadh on January 24th we hope that CEOs and senior executives from all the companies represented here will support this dialogue as well as the Global Competitiveness Forum which will be hosted by Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority the following day.
So if you happen to be in town please come by. We’d very much like you to be engaged. With your support this dialogue will help our nations realize the untapped potential for new partnerships and increased cooperation. It can help fuel stronger growth, shared prosperity, and greater stability, and ultimately it can support and advance our strategic ties at a critical time for both of our counties in the region and around the world.
Now about an hour and something ago I had an opportunity to meet Saudi Arabia’s new Ambassador to the United States, Abdullah al-Saud.
We had a great meeting. We had all sorts of things that our team had told us we were supposed to talk about. I’m not sure we talked about most of them.
First I found out he is an unbelievable cook. He proved it too, by the way. He said just watch. Come to dinner. But what I found in just a few minutes of free flow conversation, a modest man with extraordinary background in business. We have a common interest in supply chain management having dealt with it throughout our careers and we have found out that we’re neighbors just down the street.
After all of that you can imagine that it is with a special good feeling that I am introducing you to him today. On behalf of the American business community I’d like to welcome you, Mr. Ambassador.
As I said when I first met him, welcome to the Chamber and you better be here a lot more often. We have already arranged for him to come to spend half a day and then have lunch with our senior staff. I want you, Mr. Ambassador, to know how this places works because I want you to use it to help us be successful, and we’re going to try and do that.
His current focus of course is diplomacy, but he has a very strong business background. I’ll let you get up in a minute. The Ambassador served as the Chairman of the Saudi-Italian Development Company. I suspect that’s part of the place where he learned how to cook. He was previously the first governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.
He understands robust bilateral commercial relationships. He’s a valued friend and partner to the Chamber, will be in a strong and vocal but gently vocal voice for Saudi Arabia. Mr. Ambassador, we’re honored to have you come.
When you come for lunch and a meeting we’ll welcome you and provide some modest repass. When we come and visit you I want to find out if you’re really going to cook the dinner.
Thank you very much.
Introduction of Abdullah Al Saud – Thomas Donahue, President & CEO, US Chamber of Commerce and Keynote Remarks – Abdullah Al Saud, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States
Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Abdullah Al Saud
[AMBASSADOR ABDULLAH AL-SAUD] Thank you Mr. Donahue and your colleagues. I am very honored to be here. I am pleased to meet you.
When I got the invitation I of course immediately accepted because I didn’t know who was invited. My colleague said that this is a breakfast invitation on this date. I said okay because I thought there’d be free food. And then they said you have to talk. I said well to whom? Then I realized it was the great U.S. Chambers of Commerce. I heard also from my colleagues about the great work they’ve been doing with them, the Ministry, the Committee for International Trade, Saudi Chambers of Commerce, from Omar, Adel and their colleagues.
And this is very close to really my background which is actually, and I’m glad you have great Americans making mistakes and don’t know enough about some of my background.
I wish I was a three star chef but I actually had a small dining club and it was free for people invited so they all of course liked the food. So I got this reputation. I actually like cooking – doesn’t mean I’m a very good cook.
Anyways, don’t spread this. Like other reputations I’ve had it’s like when I graduated from the U.K. and in the mainstream universities – I went to red brick university not the classical universities – they give you a degree which is called honors degree.
It’s actually just like any B.A. or B.S.E. but when I went home people confused this and thought this was with honors results, the top. I actually got what is called in England, they have first, the grading, first two one, two two, a third and then fail, or ordinary degree, whatever.
But the British used to call this grade a two two, not really brilliant people two one and one, a gentleman’s degree. And when I graduated, I hope as a gentleman, certainly not as an engineer – I passed some exams.
But at home they kept talking, and this goes back in the 70s which is really ancient for us, although recent for most people, and we were quite backward and more unaware of all these things, and everybody in the family was saying Abdullah got honors. As if it’s really, you know 100 percent or whatever. I don’t know the American system.
So I had this reputation also, and I’ve been living off this forever. [Laughter]
The other one is about business. Maybe because I was actually a failure in business that I know a lot about business, what not to do. But whatever it is I’m so happy that these two great people, Mr. Donahue and my senior colleague Joe Westphal think like this about me or it is said like this about me. And I hope that I can actually contribute to this effort.
I’ve always been in areas where I interacted with a lot of foreign investors. My career was in Jubail and Yanbu the infrastructure program for the huge basic industries, petrochemicals and refineries with some other activities of course.
I then moved at the end of my public service career to establish SAGIA where it was actually a very new way of looking at how to prepare the economy, how to create an environment, because contrary to what you would think Saudi Arabia did not have investors come.
They actually worked very hard on inviting them and they came as joint ventures, technology managers, partners in many things, and it was this big involvement of a lot of companies, many of you are from those, and particularly in the oil economy were based on the fact that the Saudi leadership wanted to build very quickly when they had the financial ability.
We never had much money in the country before and did not believe that all these reserves were accumulated so quickly, particularly in the late 70s and actually to the credit of the Saudi leaders and the society and the management of it, they really did as much as possible to modernize very quickly. And this was not very easy because there were a lot of people in the country that did not want to develop so quickly and there was quite a lot of resistance.
Saudi Arabia is one of the few third world countries where actually the modern reforms came from the top with a lot of resistance. I don’t want to take too long to explain about Saudi Arabia because of the time limit.
I was thinking if I wanted to answer all or explain or rebut a lot of the points raised by all the speakers, if I speak long enough I might get lunch. [Laughter]
A lot of Americans know Saudi Arabia. We’ve had all types of Americans for 80 years. I was in the Congress and I was leading some committee and a very beautiful young lady came quietly and was whispering in my ear and I said I love this job.
And then she said I’d like to tell you I’m an Aramco baby. Her parents had worked in Saudi Arabia and I don’t know if it was her grandparents or so but she obviously was born in Saudi Arabia and then came here and she gave me her card.
I go to a government department and the lady at the reception tells me that she was also born in Saudi Arabia and her parents work in Aramco since those days, and then continuously.
I was telling our great host earlier on that I remember at the time in the boom of the 70s there were small groups or individuals even, businessmen from the United States, there was a man with his son who were doing great service in our country.
This is what really you would like to see. There was a period of big construction in the 70s where companies here were hundreds of millions only, not billions. We used to give jobs where the project was bigger than the value of that company on the New York Stock Exchange.
As for Asian companies the profit alone was bigger than the value of those private companies or trading houses alone. And the reality changed of course with the new economy.
I really could talk a lot about these things that are interesting for you but maybe at another occasion.
I would like to explain the changes. One thing for sure. We have a new administration and it’s very much oriented towards very quickly evolving into a lot of things that are extremely important for economic and business activities.
We have a great team, and I was very impressed I was invited, and that shows the way they are working to sit on the economic affairs and development council which is the highest authority in decision making.
The speed with which they dealt with things. Their thinking is very different. The hiring of senior government officials. The highest authority in the land is the Council of Ministers. They go after professional people.
No more big names, experienced bureaucrats, or successful businessmen. They go for people who have been managing and doing the real work in business.
And I’ve seen a lot of things that are extremely encouraging. One thing for sure there is no limit to how much you can do for business interaction. And for data availability for meetings, for having serious business-like discussions, practical programs rather than all the fanfare of big sounding conferences and all these slogans and all of this.
This is the most important thing is what Mr. Donahue and his people have been doing, what our businessmen have been doing, and I told him earlier on that he should consider our Embassy as a division within the Chamber to just tell us what we should do.
I would like to say how lucky I am to serve in a country that is represented by your faces and by your experiences and by your companies. It was quite a shock to me to have been chosen.
I am so lucky to have a head of state who’s action-oriented, a great team under him. I have a minister who knows Washington so well. All I have to do is just relax and say okay, what do you want me to do.
And then I have a great partner in this work, Joe Westphal, whom you can’t help but fall in love with the first time you see him and his charm and his spirit is actually what American has always been about.
This is why a lot of people came and still keep coming to the United States, because of its people. And then of course to see Mr. Donahue speak about things and I liked it very much the way he was thinking. He was thinking like a statesman, speaking like a businessman.
So I am very happy, and all I need to know is what time is breakfast every day. [Laughter]
Thank you so much.
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