- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2011

NOMINATION DELAYED

Armenian-Americans are cheering Sen. Robert Menendez for blocking the nomination of career diplomat John Heffern to serve as ambassador to Armenia.

The New Jersey Democrat delayed a vote on Mr. Heffern’s confirmation in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday after complaining last week that President Obama continues to refuse to recognize Turkey’s “genocide” of Armenians in World War I.

Senators frequently put a so-called “hold” on a nomination to object to a particular nominee or focus attention on a White House policy issue.

“We would like to thank Sen. Menendez for affording his colleagues greater time to scrutinize and make an informed determination,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.

Mr. Menendez made his intentions clear last week at a committee hearing on Mr. Heffern’s nomination. The senator expressed his frustration that Mr. Heffern declined to refer to the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as genocide.

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama referred to the Armenian genocide under the old Ottoman Turkish Empire. As president, he has avoided the term to prevent offending Turkey, a key NATO ally.

“This is an inartful dance that we do,” Mr. Menendez said at the July 13 hearing.

At the hearing, Mr. Heffern said that the massacre fits the definition of genocide in international treaties, but he added that the president makes the decision whether to call it that.

Mr. Hamparian called Mr. Heffern’s response a “painful spectacle” by a senior U.S. diplomat “forced to dance and dodge around the plain truth.”

Mr. Menendez, along with Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, also blocked the nomination of career diplomat Douglas Farrar to serve as ambassador to Nicaragua. They said Mr. Farrar was soft on Cuba in his position as head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana.

SENATE APPROVES LOCKE

The Senate this week confirmed the nomination of former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to serve as ambassador to China, making him the first Chinese-American to represent the United States in Beijing.

Mr. Locke, the grandson of a Chinese immigrant, will replace Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican who resigned the position to seek his party’s presidential nomination.

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry welcomed Mr. Locke’s confirmation.

“We hope the new U.S. ambassador to China will play a positive role in promoting greater developments in bilateral relations,” spokeswoman Jian Yu told reporters.

DEATH OF A DIPLOMAT

American Catholics are mourning the death of Vatican Ambassador Pietro Sambi, who died Wednesday of complications from recent lung surgery. He was 73.

The death of Archbishop Sambi “brings deep sadness for the Church in the United States,” Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Thursday.

“Archbishop Sambi was a friend of the United States,” he said in a statement printed in the National Catholic Reporter newspaper. “Archbishop Sambi understood and loved our nation.”

The ambassador was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI and arrived in Washington in February 2006. He was a senior Vatican diplomat, having previously served as ambassador to Burundi, Cyprus, Indonesia and Israel.

“The archbishop was known for his warm and affable manner, sense of humor and [for] being open and ready to listen to people,” the Catholic Reporter said in an obituary.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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