Richard Morningstar

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Nominee For U.S. Envoy To Azerbaijan Looks To Challenges Ahead

By Richard Solash June 14, 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to Azerbaijan has told lawmakers that he will do "everything in my power" to help the Caucasian country become a "modern democracy" if confirmed for the post.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 13, Richard Morningstar said the oil-rich nation's commitment to deepened Euro-Atlantic ties "must span well beyond pipelines."

"We can't just say, 'Hey, you know, you ought to do better on this,' and, 'It's important.' We have to be able to convey how much it's in their interest to make changes and to open up society and to create that way, hopefully, greater stability within the society," said Morningstar.

Azerbaijan has long occupied the lower rungs on measures of political plurality, rule of law, and freedom of expression under President Ilham Aliyev.

​​Pipelines, however, will consume a significant portion of Morningstar's time should he head to Azerbaijan, the third-largest oil producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia and Kazakhstan.

Featuring on his agenda will be securing Baku's continued contribution to the Southern Corridor energy project to supply gas to Europe while bypassing Russia and Iran.

Morningstar, 67, has deep credentials in the sensitive energy politics of the region.

He currently serves as the State Department's special envoy for Eurasian energy. Under former U.S. President Bill Clinton, he was a special adviser for Caspian Basin energy diplomacy.

Morningstar also served as ambassador to the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union from 1995 to 1998, and more recently, as the U.S. ambassador to the EU.

He told lawmakers that he would draw on his diplomatic experience to help defuse escalating tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. The breakaway Azerbaijani territory, populated almost entirely by ethnic Armenians, was the site of a 1988-94 war in which tens of thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Continued skirmishes have challenged an uneasy cease-fire.

Morningstar pledged to argue in Baku that resolving that conflict would allow the government to focus on other pressing security concerns.

"I have to believe that Nagorno-Karabakh is a huge distraction when there are other critical security issues within that region that Azerbaijan faces -- the issue of Iran seems to become greater every day with respect to Azerbaijan [and] in terms of the Caspian Sea, there are any number of [security] issues," he said.

Morningstar also said Baku is "looking for [U.S.] help" amid tensions with Tehran and weighed in on potential U.S. military sales to Azerbaijan.

The move would require a State Department waiver of restrictions currently in place and has been criticized by several lawmakers as dangerous to Armenia.

"We have to provide, I think, security assistance -- possibly military assistance -- in ways that cannot be used to exacerbate any situation with respect to Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh," he said. "I think we have to be very, very strict in doing that, but that still, I think, would allow us to do some things that are important."

Obama's nomination of Morningstar is considered by far a less contentious choice than Matthew Bryza, the president's previous pick for the post, who was dogged by accusations of anti-Armenian bias and of questionable ties to Azerbaijani officials.

His nomination was stalled in Congress before Obama bypassed lawmakers to approve him in a late 2010 "recess appointment" for a shortened posting.

His one-year term ended earlier this year.

E. Wayne Merry, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, said the administration was taking no chances with its latest nominee and predicted Morningstar will be well-received in Baku.

"He is actually a much more senior official from the American side than would normally take an ambassadorship in a country of that size. I think his nomination actually constitutes quite an honor to Azerbaijan and represents the importance which the United States, and particularly, the Obama administration, gives to trying to establish a better relationship with Baku," he said.

Morningstar's nomination must be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then by the full Senate.

U.S. envoy to Baku banned from visiting Armenian cemetery in Jugha

November 4, 2012 - 18:13 AMT

PanARMENIAN.Net - U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar has issued a statement on the protection of cultural heritage in the region.

`After the appointment, I started learning about the culture and history of the country. I have recently visited Nakhijevan, Lankaran, Shaki, Oghuz, Guba and Lahij. These visits gave me a better opportunity to familiarize myself with the country's cultural heritage. The region has a complicated history. Nagorno Karabakh conflict claimed thousands of lives, and seriously affected the places having historical, religious and cultural importance in the region. During my visit to Nakhijevan, I held discussions with the local authorities on the destruction of the ancient Armenian cemetery in Jugha. I regret that the authorities did not allow me to visit the place, citing security reasons. The protection of the region's heritage is essential to future peace," the statement reads.

Ambassador further hailed the efforts taken by both parties for protection of each other's cultural heritage.

"Today, for example, I visited St. Gregory the Illuminator's Armenian Church in Baku, where I was briefed on the church's history, the books and manuscripts in the Armenian language. The United States supports the efforts of Armenia and Azerbaijan to protect the historical archives of each other's communities in their countries. For example, next week Armenian and Azerbaijani archivists will be in the U.S. on a joint program to learn more about preservation of cultural artifacts. Efforts of this kind are encouraging and we will do our best to support any such initiatives in the future,' the statement reads, according to

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US ambassador visits Armenian church in Baku 17:05 - 04.11.12

US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar has issued a call for protecting the cultural heritage in the South Caucasus region, reports.

The diplomat has particularly said that ever since being appointed an ambassador he has started studying the country's history and culture and visiting, among other places, the monuments of Nakhichevan, to get familiarized with the diverse cultural heritage sites.

According to him, the desecrated Armenian cemetery in Nakhicevan was a topic of detailed discussions at meetings with Azerbaijani officials. Morningstar regretted to note that the plans for his visit to the region were frustrated for `security reasons'.

The ambassador stressed the importance of preserving the cultural heritage in the region, considering it a key element for maintaining peace.

He said he was encouraged by Armenia and Azerbaijan's efforts towards protecting each other's cultural heritage. The diplomat also spoke of his visit to Baku's St. Gregory the Illuminator Church where he was introduced to the Armenian church history, as well as Armenian books and manuscripts.

According to the Azerbaijani website, employees of Armenian and Azerbaijani archives are visiting Armenia next week to participate in trainings.

The Armenian church of Baku was built in 1887. The cross on the building's top was removed by the Azerbaijanis in 1990.

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