Senate Should Scrutinize Bryza Before Confirming him as Ambassador to Baku

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By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
May 27, 2010

After a lengthy delay, Azerbaijan consented last week to the appointment of Matthew Bryza as U.S. Ambassador to Baku, an unnamed American official told EurasiaNet.org. The California Courier confirmed Bryza’s nomination through its own Washington sources. The White House is expected to shortly issue an official announcement.

It is noteworthy that there has not been an American Ambassador in Azerbaijan since last July. When John Evans was recalled as Ambassador to Armenia in 2006 for using the term Armenian Genocide, the Bush administration pressured the Senate to quickly confirm his successor, claiming that the United States urgently needed an Ambassador in that country. Surprisingly, there has not been a similar sense of urgency in Washington, during the year-long absence of a U.S. Ambassador from Azerbaijan! Pres. Aliyev must have viewed this holdup as a snub to his country.

Until 2009, Matthew Bryza served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Co-Chair of the Minsk Group negotiators on the Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict. Interestingly, he was dubbed by colleagues as "Baby DAS" (Deputy Assistant Secretary) for his swift promotion, despite his youthful age and limited diplomatic experience.

The delay in his appointment to Baku could be attributed to Azerbaijan’s misgivings concerning Bryza and discontent with recent U.S. foreign policy initiatives. During the course of his upcoming Senate confirmation, Bryza should be questioned regarding his past actions and recent tensions between Azerbaijan and the United States.

Here are some questions that members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should consider asking Bryza during his nomination process:

-- Why did it take so long for Azerbaijan to consent to your appointment? What complaints did Azerbaijan have against you and against U.S. foreign policy in the region? What assurances were given by the United States to Azerbaijan to allay its concerns before consenting to your appointment?

-- Despite your and Minsk Group’s persistent efforts to resolve the Karabagh conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan are still far from reaching a peace agreement. What do you think are the remaining obstacles to resolving this conflict? Given your expertise in this region, what steps would you take as U.S. Ambassador to secure Azerbaijan’s consent to a peaceful resolution of the Karabagh conflict rather than resorting to war?

-- Pres. Aliyev has been pressuring Turkey not to lift its blockade of Armenia. How would you dissuade Azerbaijan from undermining Armenia-Turkey relations?

-- Given the absence of democratic norms in Azerbaijan, known for forged elections, lack of media freedom, and repressive measures against opposition parties and minorities, how would you persuade Azerbaijan’s leaders to establish rule of law?

-- What messages did you convey to Georgia’s leadership prior to the Georgia-Russia war of 2008? Is there any truth to reports that you had advised the Georgians that the United States would intervene militarily in case of an attack by Russia?

-- Do you believe you can carry out your diplomatic duties professionally and objectively, given your wife’s outspoken views on Armenian, Azeri and Turkish issues? [Bryza married Zeyno Baran, a Turkish-born foreign policy analyst at the Hudson Institute. Their wedding took place at the former home of the prominent Balian family of architects on an island near Istanbul. It was attended by Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and high-ranking Turkish, Georgian, and American officials].

-- Did you have any role in the recall and premature retirement of Amb. John Evans? Do you think that an Ambassador should be fired simply for using the term Armenian Genocide? What are your own views on the Armenian Genocide? Do you think it is appropriate for Pres. Obama to break his campaign promise to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide?

-- In a letter to Secretary Clinton, the Armenian National Committee of America accused you of not being impartial on "Armenia-related matters," harboring a "pro-Azerbaijani bias in the Nagorno Karabagh peace process," and advocating "U.S. complicity in Turkey’s denials of the Armenian Genocide." What assurances can you give the American people that you would fairly and objectively carry out your diplomatic duties in Azerbaijan as the official representative of the United States?

The members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should closely scrutinize Bryza’s nomination to ensure that, if confirmed, he represents U.S. interests in Baku, and not the other way around, since both he and his wife, Zeyno Baran, have had extensive ties with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. In her 2005 Senate testimony, Baran expressed her opposition to the congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide, while her husband, Bryza, told a reporter that Turkey was his "second home."