- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2010

‘DODGED A BULLET’

Armenian-American leaders proclaimed that American diplomacy “dodged a bullet” when two U.S. senators this week blocked Matthew Bryza from serving as ambassador to Armenia’s deadly rival, Azerbaijan.

However, some observers are speculating about the possible diplomatic damage to U.S. relations with Azerbaijan, an energy-rich central Asian nation that has been without a U.S. ambassador for more than a year.

“The inability of the [Obama] administration to confirm an ambassador to a relatively small country in a Senate dominated by the same [Democratic] party raises serious doubts about America’s ability to deliver on bigger issues and its capacity to act decisively in the competitive regional environment, surrounded by resurgent Russia and increasingly confident Iran,” analyst Mansur Aslanov wrote in Turkey’s English-language daily newspaper Hurriyet.

Mr. Bryza, a career diplomat who held high-level positions in Republican and Democratic administrations, faced strong opposition from the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and from two Democrats, Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Armenian-Americans are politically powerful in both states.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Mr. Bryza, 17-2, on Tuesday, but Mrs. Boxer and Mr. Menendez immediately put “holds” on his nomination, effectively killing it. Any senator can hold a nomination for any reason, but diplomatic appointments rarely encounter such fierce opposition.

Aram Hamparian, executive director of ANCA, praised both senators for blocking Mr. Bryza, whom Armenian-Americans accused of political bias toward Azerbaijan, which is mostly Muslim, and insensitivity toward Armenia, mostly Orthodox Christian. The two countries have a long history of hostility, fueled most recently by Armenia’s support of independence for Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. Big-power politics also influence the region, with Russia allied with Armenia and Turkey with Azerbaijan.

“Thanks to senators Boxer and Menendez, U.S. diplomacy dodged a bullet today. 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,” Mr. Hamparian said.

“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 Senators Boxer and Menendez for preventing this grave diplomatic misstep.”

Assuming the hold kills the nomination, he 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.”

Mr. Bryza, a former assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs and a former special U.S. envoy to Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks, defended himself against the criticism in July during his confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee. However Mr. Menendez and Mrs. Boxer pressed him for more answers and were dissatisfied with his responses.

At the committee meeting this week, Mrs. Boxer said, “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.”

c Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washington times.com.

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