BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepares to take on the Matthew Bryza nomination on Sept. 21 (which coincidentally is the 19th anniversary of the establishment of the Independent Republic of Armenia) opposition to his nomination seems to be mounting as his responses to senators’ inquiries have been disappointing at best.
Even Turkish and Azeri circles are expressing doubt about his nomination.
On Wednesday, in an op-ed published in Hurriyet entitled “Saga of Azerbaijan Ambassadorial Nominations [sic.],” Mansur Aslanov claims that Azeris are not thrilled by Bryza’s nomination, pointing out that “Baku has repeatedly criticized and confronted Bryza publicly for ‘pro-Armenian bias’ during his tenure as the U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group.”
“Baku is wary about his appointment. The polite statements of officials welcoming the nomination are more of a reflection of the diplomatic etiquette and trying to demonstrate respect for president Obama’s choice than anything else,” Aslanov claimed in his op-ed.
But, who actually has supported his nomination since his confirmation was postponed in August?
On August 23, former Montana Republican Senator Conrad Burns wrote an op-ed in the Washington Examiner praising Bryza’s “experience and fortitude to help strengthen our relationship with Azerbaijan.” Burns went of to add: “I believe each member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee knows he is truly the right man for the job.”
Burns also tersely warns his former colleagues to “not pander to special interest groups looking backward rather than to the future.”
Burns, who was shamed out of the Senate for his ties to convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, received, according to the Washington Post, $137,000 in campaign and PAC contributions from Abramoff personally, his lobbying firm and Indian clients to his campaign from 2000 to 2002.
In peddling his shameful opinion piece to the Washington Examiner, Burns representatives neglected to tell the editors about the former senator’s own special interests and ties to Azerbaijan.
“What Sen. Burns fails to mention is his own lobbying firm’s special interest in this case. Public records show that his employer, Gage Business Consulting and Government Solutions, was founded by Leo A. Giacometto, Sen. Burns’ former chief of staff and current boss,” wrote the Armenian National Committee of America to the Examiner editors upon the publication of the Bryza support piece by Burns.
Soon thereafter, the Washington Times ran a piece by Reporters Without Borders, whose president Jean-Francois Julliard questioned Bryza’s effectiveness in fighting violations of press freedoms in Azerbaijan. Of course, Bryza was at the center of one these incidents, when a reporter and editor were jailed and beaten after they reported that a high-level government minister paid for Bryza’s wedding to Turkish author Zeyno Baran.
Lorne W. Craner, President of the International Republican Institute came to Bryza’s rescue with a response op-ed in the Washington Times criticizing RWB and its chairman and praising Bryza. Craner claimed that Bryza as ambassador “will ensure that freedom is at the top of our agenda.”
The IRI’s stated mission is to promote democracy and democratic values abroad. It’s rather dubious that its president is closing his eyes on blatant violations of the very democratic values, which he is tasked to protect by saying that “The attacks against reporters described in Mr. Julliard’s letter are an all-too-frequent occurrence in authoritarian Azerbaijan.”
Does President Obama know that his pick to represent US interests in Azerbaijan is being vocally supported by a disgraced Republican senator and a conservative operative for whom freedoms are easily compromised?