New Envoys to Azerbaijan, Turkey Named without Senate Approval


Matthew Bryza

WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) — Bypassing the US Senate and ignoring strong objections from its pro-Armenian members, President Barack Obama has appointed Matthew Bryza, his former chief Nagorno-Karabagh negotiator, as US ambassador to Azerbaijan.

The White House announced this and three other “recess appointments” of ambassadors late on Wednesday after failing to secure their endorsement by the “lame-duck” Senate.

Bryza’s candidacy for the vacant post in Baku, formally nominated by Obama in spring, met with strong resistance from Armenian-American groups and their backers in the US Congress. Two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez, placed a “hold” on a full Senate vote on the nomination in September.

They said the nominee failed to address their concerns about his alleged pro-Azerbaijani bias in the Nagorno- Karabagh conflict. Menendez claimed that Bryza’s “very close  personal ties to Turkey and Azerbaijan” compromise his “ability to act as an unbiased representative of the United States in Azerbaijan.”

Bryza denied such ties as well as pro- Azerbaijani statements attributed to him in the past during Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings in July and in his subsequent written answers to some US legislators.

The Armenian Assembly of America said in a statement: “We remain deeply troubled by Azerbaijan’s continued war-rhetoric aimed against Armenia and the increasing frequency of cease-fire violations along the Nagorno Karabagh border. The recess appointment of Bryza remains in effect for one year only. The new ambassador will be judged on his ability to address Azerbaijan’s military escalation before more lives are lost and also to ensure that the US goals of regional and economic integration are met,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “US representatives in Baku need to address Azerbaijan’s intransigence and its decades-long blockade of Armenia, actions which undermine US security interests and continue to serve as a destabilizing force in the region.”

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) denounced the unilateral appointment. “Armenian Americans are deeply troubled by President Obama’s decision today to circumvent the US Senate and use a recess appointment to send a deeply flawed diplomat to represent America in Azerbaijan,” its executive director, Aram Hamparian, said in a statement.

The Armenian Assembly of America has previously echoed Armenian- American concerns about Bryza’s candidacy but stopped short of openly opposing it.

Armenia’s government, for its part, has refused to comment on the nomination controversy. Bryza frequently met with Armenian leaders in his previous capacity as deputy assistant secretary of state and the US co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group on Karabagh.

Bryza also regularly traveled to Karabagh and held talks with its ethnic Armenian leaders, both on his own and together with the group’s French and Russian co-chairs. The diplomat used the disputed territory’s Armenian name, Artsakh.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan on Thursday welcomed Bryza’s appointment. “We are ready to cooperate with the new ambassador and wish him success,” an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Interfax news agency.

The deputy chairman of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, Ali Ahmedov, said Baku expects the new envoy to help step up US mediation of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. “So far the Minsk Group has not achieved results satisfying Azerbaijan, and the conflict remains unresolved,” Ahmedov said, according to the Trend news agency. “Naturally, the US is also somewhat responsible for that.”

Other recess appointments by Obama included appointing Francis J. Ricciardone Jr. as ambassador to Turkey, Norman L. Eisen as ambassador to the Czech Republic and Robert Stephen Ford as ambassador to Syria. Sen. Sam Brownsback (R-Kansas) had put a hold on Ricciardone’s nomination.

Cole is a longtime friend of US Attorney General Eric Holder. His nomination had been blocked by Senate Republicans over questions regarding his attitude on terrorism and his performance from 2005-09 as an independent monitor at AIG, a large insurance company that received a federal bailout during the financial crisis, Politico reported Wednesday.

The White House noted that all six appointments have been waiting for Senate action for nearly five months, Politico said.

Outgoing Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said the delay in consideration of Cole’s appointment was “unnecessary and wrong.”

“His nomination received bipartisan support from public officials and from high-ranking veterans of the Justice Department, and I believe that he would have been confirmed by the Senate had his nomination been given an up-or-down vote,” Leahy said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)