- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2010

DIPLOMATIC DISPUTE

Even with Congress on recess and his ambassadorial appointment in limbo, Matthew Bryza remains a political football in one of the most protracted and controversial diplomatic disputes ever in Washington.

Mr. Bryza, a career diplomat highly regarded at the State Department, found himself caught between the broader goals of two rival ethnic groups — Armenian-Americans and Azerbaijani-Americans — after President Obama nominated him to serve as ambassador to Azerbaijan. The position has been vacant going on 15 months.

In the latest development, Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, was attacked on the editorial page of The Washington Post for blocking Mr. Bryza’s nomination after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his appointment last month.

“The Post is entitled to its own opinion but not to its own facts,” Mr. Menendez, a committee member, wrote in a letter to the editor on Sunday.

“For the record, I stand by my position that Mr. Bryza is the wrong person for the job and have made public my hold in the U.S. Senate on his nomination.”

Any senator can place a “hold” on any presidential nomination that requires Senate confirmation. Senators who block nominations usually keep their holds secret.

Mr. Menendez said his opposition “is based on information that I believe raises concerns about Mr. Bryza’s ability to remain impartial toward Azerbaijan and Turkey, including his opposition to the recognition of the Armenian genocide by Turkey and his close ties to individuals in both governments.”

Armenian-Americans also have criticized Mr. Bryza for failing to use the word “genocide” to describe the killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Turkish Empire during World War I.

During his confirmation hearing in July, Mr. Bryza repeated long-standing U.S. policy that refuses to recognize the mass killings as genocide.

Azerbaijani-Americans have come to Mr. Bryza’s defense while complaining about Armenian support for ethnic Armenians who declared independence in the Azerbaijani enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In a Sept. 24 letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat and another committee member holding Mr. Bryza’s nomination, leaders of the U.S. Azeris Network said they were “greatly surprised and disappointed” that she is blocking the appointment.

“We hope you are not kowtowing to the Armenian special interest groups such as ANCA,” they said, referring to the Armenian National Committee of America, which mounted a strong campaign to block Mr. Bryza.

Armenian-Americans are politically powerful in California, where Mrs. Boxer is facing a tough re-election campaign against Republican Carly Fiorina.

Mr. Bryza, an experienced and professional diplomat …, has been taking heat from both the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides for many years,” the Azeris Network leaders noted. “Neither side considers him to be in their favor.”

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