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“These Relationships Can’t Be Taken for Granted”: How U.S. Ambassador Bijan Sabet, BC ’91, is Navigating a Consequential Moment in U.S.-Czech Relations

A Wall Street Journal headline caught Bijan Sabet’s attention in mid-March as the diplomat, former venture capitalist, and Boston College graduate scrolled on his phone.

“A Small Ex-Soviet Satellite State Goes Hunting for Arms for Ukraine,” the headline read, referring to the Czech Republic. 

Sabet, BC ’91, reacted strongly to the “insulting” language, he said. He took to X with a screenshot of the story, crossing out “A Small Ex-Soviet Satellite State” and replacing it with “A Democratic Country for >30 years and important NATO Ally”—a title he believed more fittingly described the country of 10.67 million people that recently marked 20 years in the European Union and a quarter-century in NATO. 

“I just felt that the way it [the Czech Republic] was described was not only inaccurate, but I thought it was inappropriate, so I kind of had some fun with it,” Sabet said.

The headline was ultimately changed, but Sabet’s commitment to maintaining U.S.-Czech relations has not, he said.

Sabet, the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic, is at the forefront of this bilateral relationship that, according to him, is stronger than ever. 

“It is something that matters to the President, and it matters to me a great deal,” Sabet said.

In his nearly 16 months in Prague, Sabet has led an embassy facing everything from the first new Czech president elected in a decade to the largest war in Europe since World War II.

The gravity of the current atmosphere is not lost on Sabet, he said, and he is constantly reminded of the responsibility before him. 

“For me to be the President’s representative here is something I think about every day, and I’m grateful for his trust,” Sabet said. “I’ve got the letter [from President Biden] on my wall because I look at that every day remembering the responsibility.” 

(Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Becoming Bijan

Sabet, who was born and raised in New York, said his personal and professional life was molded by the four years he spent in Chestnut Hill.

“I feel like I owe a lot to Boston College,” Sabet said. “I give Boston College a lot of credit for my journey and really being an influence on where I ended up.”

Sabet said interdisciplinary coursework through classes like “Perspectives” and computer science courses enhanced his BC experience and aided his post-grad life. The University’s emphasis on service, he added, was also never lost on him. 

“A lot of the work I did there had this kind of connective tissue among my four years there, so I came away from BC energized to get involved in my community,” Sabet said.

Even three decades after departing from the Heights, Sabet has yet to put his Eagle days behind him.

He served on the University’s Board of Trustees for 18 months before arriving in Prague; he has returned to campus for multiple events related to venture capitalism; and, alongside his wife Lauren, also BC ’91, he endowed two Dean’s Faculty Fellows in Engineering this past October. 

Luke Jorgensen, chair of the BC Theatre Department and BC ’91, attended BC with Sabet and said they remain close friends to this day. He said it makes perfect sense for Sabet to represent the U.S. abroad.

“He absolutely doesn’t prejudge people and he really listens to who they are and always does his best to help people,” Jorgensen said. “He’s also a very, very smart person who doesn’t put on any airs whatsoever.” 

While Sabet was never the type to seek out the spotlight, he has nonetheless taken an admirable approach to his role, Jorgensen said.

“He cares very, very deeply for the people around him—for his family, for his friends, and now that has extended to his country and the world at large, which I think is amazing,” Jorgensen said. 

As the son of Korean and Iranian immigrants, engaging with foreign cultures and languages is not a new task for Sabet. He said his parents’ first-hand experiences of being saved from communism in Korea by U.S. service members and the importance of democracy and freedom in Iran had an influence on him that sticks with him to this day. 

“They were always very supportive growing up and they taught me a lot about their life experience,” Sabet said. “It was something we talked about directly and indirectly, on the importance of freedom and democracy.”

Jorgensen said Sabet’s upbringing translated to a deeper appreciation for his parents’ work—as well as the American values Sabet now promotes as an ambassador. 

“I think he very much appreciates what his parents were able to accomplish and what the country was able to give to them,” Jorgensen said.

(Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

“This relationship is something that matters deeply to me”

Prior to his nomination in August 2022, Sabet was a venture capitalist and co-founder of Spark Capital, one of the United States’ leading venture capital firms. 

Now at 55, the Boston native finds himself in the Czech Republic, thousands of miles from Spark Capital’s Back Bay office, mediating a bilateral relationship that has only grown in importance since President Joseph Biden’s meeting with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala at the White House in April. 

Sabet, who attended the meeting, said it was an extremely successful opportunity to reaffirm the bond between the two countries.

“President Biden made it clear right from the start that he views the Czech Republic as a tremendous and great ally,” Sabet said. “We’re doing so much together on so many important topics, and the discussion between President Biden and Prime Minister Fiala was strategic on a lot of topics covered like Ukraine, energy, and security.”

The setting of the meeting—none other than the Oval Office—reflected the gravity of the occasion, and Sabet said the gathering was something he would never forget. 

“I was nervous going into this meeting because the moment was not lost on me,” Sabet said. “But within 30 seconds everyone really was able to just feel comfortable and at home, and I wasn’t the only nervous one as it turns up.” 


The meeting came amid deepening bilateral defense cooperation entailing a $6.6 billion deal for the purchase of 24 U.S. F-35 fighter jets, the largest defense purchase ever by the Czech Republic, as well as a one year-old Defense Cooperation Agreement to enhance NATO ties between the two countries’ militaries. 

The war in Ukraine also remains on the forefront of Sabet’s mind—Czechia hosts some of the most Ukrainian refugees per capita and is leading an initiative to buy hundreds of thousands of artillery ammunition rounds for Ukraine. Sabet has seen the work of Czechs and Ukrainians alike animate itself in a visit to Libava, a military training camp under four hours east of Prague where Sabet said Czechs train Ukrainian soldiers.

“It is a really important activity of course, but it also is an emotionally powerful experience to meet Ukrainian soldiers that are coming to be trained by the Czechs, who are doing an incredible job at this as they defend their country,” Sabet said. “To see that is something I won’t forget.”

The April Oval Office meeting was the pinnacle of what has been a whirlwind of dialogue between the U.S. and the Czech Republic in 2024. Between a visit from FBI Director Christopher Wray in February, a visit from former President Bill Clinton in March to mark Czechia’s 25th anniversary of NATO membership, and a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in late May for a NATO foreign ministers summit, Sabet has had his fair share of important conversations this year. 

But Sabet isn’t just receiving visits, he is also making them. He said he has traveled to nearly all of Czechia’s 13 regions, meeting with local leaders, students, and citizens.

“The way to really understand it is to get there, show up, and meet people,” Sabet said.

“To hear firsthand from students has been very helpful not only to hear what their dreams are and what their fears are, but they also have feedback for the U.S., and to hear that directly is super valuable.”

Filip Nerad, the head of the foreign news desk and European affairs analyst at Czech Radio, said Sabet is one of the highest regarded foreign ambassadors in the country by virtue of representing the U.S.

Even though Sabet was not well-known to many before his nomination, Nerad said, he was received warmly by the government, which had been waiting over a year for a nomination to the post. 

“It was a very interesting nomination,” Nerad said. “I don’t think many people knew him before, even though he was a successful entrepreneur, but he was accepted with gratitude.”

(Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

‘We’re just focused on the work’

The former venture capitalist embraces a tech-savvy perspective within his role as America’s top diplomat in the Czech Republic. An avid photographer, he posts film photos from Prague on his Instagram. He runs a blog where he reflects every few months on his travels across Europe. He is also active on X, in which he was an early investor in the late 2000’s. 

Sabet’s openness and willingness to share bits of his life in Prague on social media is a wise move, Nerad said. 

“We can see that the U.S. ambassador is not only this gray man in a suit, but that he runs in the morning and goes on walks with his dog to buy ice cream,” Nerad said. 

Amid the constantly evolving developments that shape Sabet’s work, the 2024 U.S. presidential election hangs as a shadow on both America itself and its diplomats, such as Sabet, representing the country abroad.

But the Biden-Trump rematch is undoubtedly consequential for America’s NATO allies, which President Clinton noticed in his March visit to Prague.

Less than three weeks after his visit, Clinton mentioned hearing concerns from Europeans about a potential second Trump presidency in an episode of the podcast SmartLess.

When asked whether he heard similar sentiment in the Czech Republic regarding the fear of a second Trump term, Sabet did not answer directly, instead pointing to Biden’s steadfast commitment to the NATO alliance and Article five.

“The U.S. stands behind our commitments to NATO,” Sabet said. “[Biden] has said repeatedly in an unwavering manner that we will defend every inch of NATO and our allies care and people care and it is important for the United States to carry on in this way, and I have no doubt that this will continue.”

Nerad says the fear among Czech officials of a second Trump term likely comes from the impulsive and unexpected nature of the 45th president. 

“I think the biggest fear is this unexpectedness of Donald Trump,” Nerad said. “If he decides, ‘Okay, I will stop the support of Ukraine,’ then Europe will be totally left alone in this circle—and that’s one thing that might worry Czech politicians.” 

In the meantime, Sabet said “we’re just focusing on the work” at the embassy. He doesn’t know where his next step would be, even though his wife is asking, he said. 

“All the work to strengthen our relations with the Czechs is something that is really our top priority,” Sabet said. “These relationships can’t be taken for granted—it’s something that we should continue to invest in and to care about and that’s really my goal every single day.”

June 19, 2024