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Embassy Row: Unreliable sources

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 25, 2012

U.S. Ambassador Richard Morningstar in Azerbaijan is denouncing state media reports that claimed he praised democratic development in one of the most abusive regions of the former Soviet republic in Central Asia.

The U.S. Embassy in the Azeri capital of Baku issued a blunt statement last week, accusing state media of distorting reports on Mr. Morningstar's visit to the Nakhchivan region on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

"The ambassador did not make such comments to anyone, and any reports claiming that he did so are not true," the embassy said of state media coverage that said he praised the progress of democracy during his trip to Nakhchivan.

Contrary to state media, Mr. Morningstar used the visit to highlight the poor quality of democracy and human rights in Nakhchivan and made a point of meeting with human rights activist Malahat Nasibova, the embassy said.

"Ambassador Morningstar met with a wide range of leading governmental and nongovernmental figures during his visit, including human rights activist Malahat Nasibova, whose office he visited in a show of support, and whose important work he praised during his public comments. Ambassador Morningstar also called publicly and privately for an open dialogue between local authorities and human rights defenders such as Ms. Nasibova," the embassy said.

Elmar Chakhtakhtinski, chairman of the U.S.-based Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy, said he suspected Azeri President Ilham Aliyev was using the ambassador's trip for propaganda purposes to enhance the image of his government, which the State Department notes has a poor human rights record.

"It is outrageous that the Azerbaijani official state media wrongly attributes such statements to a U.S. ambassador," Mr. Chakhtakhtinski told azerireport.com.

"I do not see how a distortion of this magnitude can be an honest mistake on the part of the government media. The Aliyev regime is well-known for its uncivilized propaganda tactics, and now they seem to use the U.S. ambassador's name in their campaign."

The embassy was sensitive to the reports about the ambassador's visit to Nakhchivan after Mr. Morningstar had made a diplomatic blunder by bowing to a statue of Azerbaijan's late autocratic leader Heydar Aliyev, the father of the current president.

The embassy had insisted that Mr. Morningstar did not bow to the statue shortly after he presented his diplomatic credentials to the current president in September. However, photographs clearly showed him lowering his head after laying flowers at the base of the monument.

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Monday

• Gen. Tom Middendorp, chief of defense of the Netherlands, who meets with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

• Maj. Gen. Talgat Zhanzhumenov, the deputy defense minister of Kazakhstan, who leads a military delegation for talks with Pentagon officials.

• Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, who meets with Vice President Joseph R. Biden and members of Congress.

Tuesday

• Enrique Pena Nieto, president-elect of Mexico, who meets with President Obama.

Wednesday

• Ferenc Kumin, Hungary's deputy state secretary for international communication, who meets with State Department officials and public-policy analysts.

• Dmitri Tenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, who joins a panel discussion on U.S.-Russian relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Friday

• A delegation from Ukraine led by Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko with Finance Minister Yuriy Kolobov, Culture Minister Mykhailo Kulyniak, Agriculture Minister Mykola Prysyazhnyuk, Environment and Natural Resources Minister Eduard Stavytskiy and Vladyslav Kaskiv, head of the State Agency for Investment and National Projects of Ukraine. They meet with administration officials.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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