Joseph W. Westphal
US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
(as of March 26, 2014)
Dr. Joseph W. Westphal was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on March 26, 2014
AS OF NOV 2014
Dr. Joseph W. Westphal will be nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia according to the White House. Westphal who currently serves as Under Secretary of the Army was among five appointees announced last week. President Obama said, “I am grateful these accomplished individuals have agreed to join this Administration, and I’m confident they will serve ably in these important roles. I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years.” Westphal’s nomination requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Westphal has had a distinguished record in academia and government service. He has served as the second senior civilian in the Department of the Army since 2009 after working on President Obama’s transition team. Additional background from his official biography:
“[From] 2007 to 2009, while on leave from the University of Maine, Dr. Westphal served in a number of positions at The New School University in New York City, including Senior Vice President for Research, Director of the Tishman Environment and Design Center and Provost. Dr. Westphal was Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine from 2002 to 2009 and Chancellor of the University of Maine System from 2002 to 2006. From 2001 to 2002, Dr. Westphal was Senior Policy Counselor at Patton Boggs, LLP in Washington D.C. Previously, he served as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works at the Department of Defense from 1998 to 2001, and from 1997 to 1998 Dr. Westphal was Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, he was Executive Director of the Congressional Sunbelt Caucus and Budget Analyst for the U.S. House Committee on the Budget. Dr. Westphal received a B.A. from Adelphi University, an M.A. from Oklahoma State University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia.”
Ambassador-nominee Westphal will replace James B. Smith, a retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General who recently completed his posting as U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia after four years in Riyadh. The Deputy Chief of Mission, Timothy A. Lenderking, is serving as Charges D’affaires in Riyadh during the ambassadorial vacancy.
The new ambassador will take up his post at a time where frustrations and disagreements between Riyadh and Washington have publicly surfaced. The close relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia extends back to the 1930s and the diplomatic ties were cemented in 1945 at a war-time meeting between President Franklin Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz in the Suez Canal. The complex government, business, military, educational and cultural ties have been through rough patches over time, but the underlying mutual interests have sustained the partnership. However, last month Saudi Arabia openly criticized American Middle East policy and the United Nations Security Council over failures to act in Syria, the looming rapprochement with Iran, the decades-long stalemate in the Israel-Palestine conflict and lack of progress on a regional WMD free zone.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Riyadh November 4 to meet with King Abdullah and Saudi officials to address the open disagreement over increasingly difficult regional crises. After the meeting Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal held a press conference and talked about the “candid and friendly” discussions and the long-term bonds. However, there was no indication that the two sides have resolved the frustrations and questions that led to Saudi Arabia’s public airing of its dissatisfaction with the Obama Administration. Prince Saud noted:
“I’d like to take this opportunity to address the recent media reports about Saudi-U.S. relations, which went so far as to describe them as dramatically deteriorating. The fact of the matter is that the historic relationship between the two countries has always been based on independence, mutual respect, common interest, and constructive cooperation on regional and international issues to serve global peace and security. A true relationship between friends is based on sincerity, candor, and frankness rather than mere courtesy. Within this perspective, it’s only natural that our policies and views might see agreement in some areas and disagreement in others. That’s perfectly normal in any serious relationship that spans a wide range of issues.”
By any measure Ambassador-nominee Westphal will arrive in Riyadh in the midst of interesting times.