Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves Morningstar As Ambassador to Azerbaijan


WASHINGTON — This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to approve a number of ambassadorial nominees, including Richard Morningstar, whom the Barack Obama administration designated to serve as ambassador to Azerbaijan, reported the Armenian Assembly of America.

Morningstar’s nomination comes amid Azerbaijan’s June 4 cease-fire violation. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) stated this week that it was “absolutely critical that Ambassador Morningstar use his position to respond to and counter the Government of Azerbaijan’s escalating acts of aggression and threats against Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh.” Responding to Boxer’s question submitted for the record, Morningstar pledged that “if confirmed, I will make the case that irresponsible rhetoric is unacceptable and undermines our efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict. I will urge the Azerbaijani government to show restraint in its rhetoric and to prepare its people for peace, not war.”

During last week’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) also raised serious concerns about Azerbaijan’s cease-fire violations that coincided with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s June visit to the South Caucasus region, and asked the ambassador-designate a series of pointed questions about the resulting escalation of tensions and US policy to restrain Azerbaijan’s bellicosity.

Morningstar stated in response that there is no higher US priority in the region than “the peaceful solution of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict.” In addition, the nominee pledged: “I will do everything that I can to discourage” inflammatory language or any “actions that bring about loss of life,” and create increased tensions or instability.

Other senators have also expressed concerns whether US policy is tilted toward Azerbaijan in view of its oil resources, which finances its mounting purchases of offensive weapons. Both Morningstar and his predecessor designee, Matthew Bryza, have been active in facilitating negotiations over pipeline deals transporting Caspian oil to the West.

“The Armenian Assembly continues to be deeply troubled by Azerbaijan’s incessant war- mongering, including reports by RFE-RL that a kindergarten in the village of Chinari was peppered with bullets by Azerbaijan’s June cross- border incursion,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “This is simply unacceptable,” Ardouny added.

In the Assembly’s letter to all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as its June 4 letter to Clinton, the Assembly urged that the aggression by Azerbaijan be “roundly condemned” and stated that all options must be on the table, including “fully enforcing Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act” as well as “ceasing all US military assistance to Azerbaijan.”

Responding to the Assembly’s letter on behalf of Clinton, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon stated that “the United States has urged the parties to refrain from the use or threat of force, [and] as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk-Group, we remain committed to working with the sides to achieve a peaceful settlement.” In addition, the letter stated that US “security assistance to the region is carefully considered to ensure it does not undermine efforts for a peaceful settlement in Nagorno- Karabagh.”

Having cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the next step in the nomination process is for the full Senate to approve Morningstar’s nomination.