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Expatriate Workers Stay in Saudi Arabia

May 14, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ Foreigners working in Saudi Arabia are by and large staying put, while many spouses and children rattled by this week’s terrorist attacks are leaving for summer vacation a little earlier than usual, according to Middle East analysts, travel agents and Americans who’ve spoken to expatriates there.

For security reasons, several U.S. corporations with employees in Saudi Arabia who were contacted Wednesday, including ChevronTexaco and Bechtel, would not provide details about their plans.

But David Hamod, U.S. representative for the American Business Council of the Gulf Countries, said he has been in regular contact with foreign companies in the country and that none of them plan to ``pull the plug″ on operations there.

``Most companies have adopted a wait-and-see policy,″ said Hamod, president of Intercom International Consultants of Washington. ``The school year is coming to an end, so some families were planning on taking a break anyway, but I don’t expect a mass exodus.″

That could change, analysts said, if more attacks were to follow.

Security is expected to be beefed up around Western residential compounds, but the expatriate community was psychologically rattled by the attacks and feelings of vulnerability are intense.

``This was a shock. This was their 9-11,″ said Judith Kipper, director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Middle East Forum.

Monday night’s attacks on three residential compounds populated by expatriates killed 34 people, including nine attackers, and injured nearly 200.

Saudi Arabia’s large expatriate community includes roughly 35,000 Americans and 30,000 Britons. The workers represent a wide range of industries, including construction, defense, energy and telecommunications. There are many teachers as well.

Kipper said the U.S. government’s decision to require all nonessential diplomats and family members to leave Saudi Arabia could cause Western companies that have not taken similar positions to change their minds.

Individual employees may also decide to leave the country, but there is no anticipation of workers packing up en masse.

``This is where their job is, this is where they live,″ Kipper, who is based in Washington, said.

Pieter Rieder, vice president of international development for Rosenbluth International, a Philadelphia-based firm that manages travel for hundreds of companies in the region, said there has been a ``spike″ in departures from Saudi Arabia by family members of executives.

``But we have not actually seen a lot of the employees coming out,″ Rieder said. ``What I think is self-evident is that a lot are choosing to stay.″

Paul S. Watson, who spent 21 years working in Saudi Arabia and is now retired in Jamestown, N.C., said the American presence in that country has diminished in recent years because of poor economic conditions and because more contracts have been awarded to companies from other foreign nations.

This week’s attacks could accelerate that trend, he said, if only to reduce the number of workers who take their families with them to Saudi Arabia.

``I know from my experience,″ Watson added, ``that if it was perceived to be a severe danger over there, everybody would go.″