WASHINGTON – Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-N) announced Tuesday evening that they have placed a “hold” on U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan nominee Matthew Bryza, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
The senators’ decision followed a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote earlier today to approve his nomination by voice vote, despite serious concerns regarding the Ambassador-designate’s unusually close ties to Azerbaijani government officials, his troubling track record as a senior diplomat dealing with the Caucasus, and persistent conflict of interest issues related to the Caspian energy industry. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Boxer both spoke and voted against the Bryza nomination.
“Thanks to senators Boxer and Menenez, U.S. diplomacy dodged a bullet today,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “It would have been a serious mistake – both for U.S. strategic interests and for hopes of lasting peace in the Caucasus – to have sent Matt Bryza to Baku amid escalating threats of renewed war by Azerbaijan’s leaders. Given his track record, he clearly would have been the wrong diplomat, at the wrong time, in exactly the wrong post. We are deeply grateful to both senators for preventing this grave diplomatic misstep.”
Hamparian added, “Our nation’s important diplomatic work in Azerbaijan can now get off to a fresh start, one without the bias and baggage that Matt Bryza would have brought to this pivotal position. Our hope now is that the President will nominate a new candidate who will openly stand up to Azerbaijan’s aggression and forcefully deter its march toward renewed war against Nagorno Karabakh.”
The hold prevents fast-tracked Senate consideration of the Bryza nomination, effectively blocking his confirmation for this ambassadorial post. Menendez took a similar action in 2006, preventing the appointment of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia nominee Richard Hoagland, who denied the Armenian Genocide during his Senate confirmation process.
Senators Express Reservations During Committee Consideration
In her remarks during today’s Committee meeting, Senator Boxer explained that she voted against the Bryza nomination because he had not demonstrated the willingness or the ability to meaningfully confront Azerbaijan’s aggression.
“Despite my appreciation for Mr. Bryza’s long service as a Foreign Service Officer, I don’t believe he is the right person for this position,” explained Senator Boxer. “What concerns me is that Mr. Bryza has demonstrated a pattern of unwillingness to speak out forcefully in the face of increasing Azerbaijani aggression against Nagorno Karabakh.”
Senator Menendez, who has played a leadership role throughout the Bryza confirmation process, noted that he had “serious reservations about the U.S. ambassador nominee to Azerbaijan,” citing Bryza’s inaction in the face of Azerbaijan’s desecration of the Djulfa cemetery and opposition to Armenian Genocide affirmation; and, “very close personal ties to Turkey and Azerbaijan, and therefore about his ability to act as an unbiased representative of the United States in Azerbaijan.”
Even Senators voting in favor of Bryza expressed worries about his nomination. The panel’s Chairman, John Kerry (D-MA), stated that he appreciated the concerns raised by Senators Menendez and Boxer and anticipated continued Senate scrutiny. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) issued a statement following the vote, stating that he found concerns raised by constituents and others “troubling, particularly Mr. Bryza’s relationship with the Azerbaijan Government.”
Bryza’s Responses to Senate Inquiry Unconvincing
Bryza’s incomplete and evasive responses to extensive questioning by Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Boxer, Menendez and Jean Shaheen (D-NH) during his July 22nd confirmation hearing, and to subsequent written questions by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senators Boxer, Menendez, and Russ Feingold (D-WI), led Senator Boxer to ask for a delay in the consideration of his nomination on August 3rd. Her action provided Senators a meaningful opportunity to review his candidacy during the August recess. Additional responses submitted to Senators during the August Congressional recess were equally evasive.
Senators have been primarily concerned with Bryza’s reluctance to condemn repeated Azerbaijani attacks against Nagorno Karabakh, which have claimed the lives of eight soldiers during the last three months. He also drew criticism for side-stepping questions regarding his three-month public silence following the release of video documenting the Azerbaijani destruction of the 1300-year-old Armenian cemetery in Djulfa, Azerbaijan.
Bryza’s responses to concerns regarding conflict of interest issues dealing with his wife, Zeyno Baran, were equally troubling. In recent days, the ANCA learned that Baran serves on the editorial board of the Azerbaijani Government funded “Azerbaijan Focus,” a journal published by the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan (known by the acronym SAM in the Azerbaijani language). Joining Baran on the editorial board are Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov; Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan Hafiz Pashayev; Head of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ramiz Mehdiyev; Head of the Department of Foreign Relations of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Novruz Mammadov; Head of the Department of Political Analysis and Information Provision of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Elnur Aslanov; Director of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Elkhan Nuriyev; and Executive Director of the State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan Shahmar Movsumov. Mamedyarov had been one of three witnesses standing up for the groom at the Bryza – Baran wedding in 2007.
The ANCA’s detailed 9-page review of the shortcomings of the Bryza nomination can be found at: http://www.anca.org/assets/pdf/misc/BryzaNomination.pdf