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New U.S. Envoy To Azerbaijan Outlines Priorities

U.S. Ambassador Matthew Bryza: "There has been significant progress made."
U.S. Ambassador Matthew Bryza: "There has been significant progress made."
By RFE/RL
Peacefully resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, bolstering Western energy security, and promoting democracy in Azerbaijan. Such will be the priorities of Matthew Bryza, the new U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan.

Bryza is a career diplomat and a seasoned expert of the South Caucasus, where he served as one of Washington's highest-profile representatives during the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Speaking to Khadija Ismayilova of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, he says his appointment as U.S. envoy to Azerbaijan in late December is "a continuation" of his work in the region.

Much of his efforts, he says, will be directed at negotiating a peaceful settlement to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan that Armenia seized during a brief war in the early 1990s.

This, he says, is "more important than any other issue in the region."

Progress Being Made

He acknowledges that failure to settle the long-running dispute has generated some disappointment in the Minsk Group, the body commissioned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) 18 years ago to broker a solution to the conflict.

But Bryza, who formerly co-chaired the Minsk Group, says substantial progress has been made in recent years.

"It's completely natural for people to feel disappointed until any negotiated process reaches its conclusion. And disappointment is felt on both sides about the conflict," he says. "But what I do know from my own experience inside the negotiations -- and now from the outside -- is that there has been significant progress made. If we look back at where the negotiations were in, say, 2005 or 2004, the process didn't even exist. It had reached a stopping point."

Bryza says the U.S. mission in Baku will also work hard on ensuring that European nations have access to more diversified energy supplies.

The United States has actively lobbied for the construction of the Nabucco pipeline, which would bring gas from the Caspian basin to Europe via Turkey. Advocates say the pipeline will reduce Europe's reliance on Russian gas, with the additional benefit of bringing Turkey closer into the Western fold.

Bryza says Washington and Baku agree on the need to increase Europe's energy security.

"It's a long-standing area of cooperation where we are working together so that our European allies have a diversified supply of natural gas so that they feel safer, both politically and economically," he says.

But Nabucco has suffered a series of setbacks due to competition from rival regional pipelines and Azerbaijan's apparent reluctance to formally commit to the project.

Democracy Promotion

Azerbaijan in January signed an agreement with the European Commission to supply gas to the so-called Southern Corridor, a network of pipelines including Nabucco that would pump oil and gas to Europe. The deal, however, does not specify which of these competing pipelines Azerbaijan would eventually supply.

Bryza's appointment could be instrumental in drumming up regional support for the Nabucco pipeline. Managers hope to begin construction of the pipeline toward the end of this year.

Another delicate task facing the new U.S. ambassador is to promote democracy and human rights in a country widely criticized for its poor record on both counts.

Bryza says Washington will continue to press for democratic reform and economic liberalization in Azerbaijan.

"What I'm really interested in is working together at all levels of Azerbaijani society," he says. "Yes, the government, but also elites in Baku from business, common people out in the regions, whether they're farmers or medical professionals or teachers, to build a culture of democracy rather than thinking only about the mechanics of democracy."

Helping to loosen up President Ilham Aliev's grip on politics and the economy could be particularly tricky for Bryza, who critics say harbors close ties with Azerbaijan's ruling elite.

Those concerns prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to appoint Bryza while the Senate was in recess at the end of 2010, a move that allowed Obama to circumvent strong opposition from two powerful Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer of California and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

'Democracy Does Good Things'


The wrangling over Bryza's appointment resulted in Washington having no ambassador to Azerbaijan for more than a year, an absence that some Azerbaijanis believe held back democratic progress in their country.

But Bryza denies his controversial appointment hurt Azerbaijan or bilateral relations in any way.

"When democracy is working, democracy doesn't hurt," he says. "Democracy does good things."

Touching briefly on international affairs, the ambassador also firmly defended Washington's stance on the political unrest currently sweeping the Middle East.

He rejects criticism that the United States performed a diplomatic U-turn by supporting antigovernment protests after decades of backing authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, in particular toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

U.S. foreign policy, Bryza insists, has been consistent in supporting democracy "everywhere possible."

"When it looked like President Mubarak was maybe going to refuse to leave office, I saw some criticism of President Obama that he believed too much in democracy and pressed too hard for Mubarak to leave," Bryza says. "Now we see that President Obama, of course, was right, and we have to always be pressing for long-term stability through democracy."

Claire Bigg contributed to this story
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: JOHN LIVERIS from: GREECE
March 02, 2011 16:39
I am at a loss to understand why Matt Bryza is "Controversial" as you so prominantly state. Is it maybe because some fringe group in the US proclaimed him to be? Or are you maybe trying to entice commentary just like a British tabloid or the National Enquirer would? Unbelievable and sad...
In Response

by: Taxpayer from: USA
March 02, 2011 22:38

One reason to call him controversial is because he was not sent to Azerbaijan by the US Congress as an Honorable Ambassador to represent his country.

Rather, Mr. Obama made a temporary "recess" appointment of this dishonorable man to represent Nabucco Pipeline Consortium interests.
In Response

by: JOHN LIVERIS from: GREECE
March 03, 2011 14:38
Re: both your comments: and I thought that the only thing BIG that Mr. Obama was for, was Big Government...
In Response

by: Abby from: USA
March 07, 2011 22:13

Why has RFE changed their headline? It used to read "Controversial Ambassador Outlines Priorities." I guess the truth hurts too much.

Bryza is "controversial," since he could not be confirmed by the Senate and had to rely on the President to sneak him in during a recess appointment.

Bryza is "controversial," since he provided incorrect responses to Senate inquiries.

Bryza is "controversial," since his spouse accepted money from Azerbaijani corporations at the same time she was trying to influence U.S. policies, which Bryza was forming and implementing, to be more pro-Azerbaijan.

Bryza is "controversial," since he had a lavish wedding, who some allege was paid for by an Azerbaijani government official. The Azerbaijani Foreign Minister served as one of his groomsmen, when he was supposed to be an unbiased representative of the U.S. mediating a conflict, which included Azerbaijan and required extensive communications with that same communications with that same Minister.



by: Lusy from: USA
March 02, 2011 17:11
Unfortunately, "predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan that Armenia seized" is a misleading statement. Karabakh Armenians themselves seized the opportunity of apparent democratization of the former USSR and declared their secession from the Azerbaijani SSR (they repeatedly attempted to do so since it was made part of Azerbaijani SSR in 20-ies). The following bloodshed initiated by central government (the same exact pattern as in former Yugoslavia) resulted in war, lots of refugees from both ends, and ultimate defeat of the Azerbaijani government - again similar to Yugoslavian case. True, some volunteers from Armenia helped the Karabakh Armenians (unlike Yugoslavia NATO forces didn't help them) - but that doesn't make "seizing the land" argument true in any remote way. Today, the vast majority of population of Karabakh are the same Karabakh Armenians (with some refugees from Azerbaijan). All other parts of former Azerbaijani SSR once inhabited by Armenians (e.g. 210.000 ethnic Armenians living in the capital city of Baku) are gone.
In Response

by: ANK from: UK
March 05, 2011 02:13
My Dear Lusy
There are currently 30 thsnd Armenians live in Azerbaijan, practicing their language, culture, tradition and religion. Whereas Armenia is mono-ethnic country. It has been ethnically cleansed not only from Azeries and Turks, but also from Kurds, Jews, Uzbeks, Kazaks etc. by the Armenian nationalist and terrorist government. Please state the truth and fact and the fact is only last year alone 240 thsnd Armenians have left the country in search of better living conditions. Some of them have crossed into Azerbaijan asking for political asylim. Be honest to yourself and state the truth.
In Response

by: Lusy from: USA
March 05, 2011 17:12
240.000 Armenians left the country last year?! Would really appreciate the source of the "truth" you are stating - ideally a reputable and independent one. If you can't provide it (which I suspect you won't) - it's nothing more than cheap propaganda. Period.

30 thousand Armenians living in today's Azerbaijan - where hatred towards Armenians is taught in schools, and where the highest level officials do not shy away from the lowest level remarks about the Armenian nation? Please, give some credit to the readers - do not insult our intelligence.

The *truth* - confirmed by reputable international organizations like Freedom House, Transparency International, World Bank etc. - is that Azerbaijan today is a highly corrupt dictatorship drunk with oil money - one of many of this kind, actually. The last thing Karabakh Armenians want is to be part of such an entity.
In Response

by: Taxpayer from: USA
March 06, 2011 17:32

30,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan and practicing their language - WHAT A LIE!!

It's the same kind of Turkic lie that was exposed when the Turkish government lied about 100,000 "illegal Armenians" living in Turkey. They were unable to produce any evidence but they use these bogus statistics to intimidate and blackmail Armenians.

The truth is that after ethnically cleansing Azerbaijan from its native Armenian population Azeri-Turk nomads are now busy "Turkifying" the rest of the native populations of the lands given to them by Stalin. Forget about the fictitious Armenians there, even Muslim Lezgi and Tolysh sizable minorities are not allowed to "practice their language, culture, tradition and religion" in Sultan Aliyev's Azerbaijan!!

Minority representatives were the first to be sent to fight for Turkic dominance in the war for Artsakh liberation and they were killed disproportionally not only by Artsakh freedom fighters but by the Afghan Mujaheddin troops strategically placed by the father of the current Sultan Aliyev - KGB General Heydar Aliyev - behind the front lines to kill anybody refusing to fight for the great Azerbaijan.

Even now if you compare the losses of Azerbaijan military in this "peaceful" period, the majority of the dead soldiers come from non-Turkic minorities that are sent to die for the great Turkic cause. Not only they are the first to die in Azerbaijan provoked combat but inside the military units due to ethnically motivated hazing.

by: Daniel from: CA, USA
March 02, 2011 17:15
The guy got it all wrong - apparently the Arab lessons went unnoticed by the State Department. Establishing the democracy should be the absolute top priority for Bryza. It will help all other questions - Karabakh negotiations would be easier if Azerbaijan becomes a truly democratic and open society, and the stability would be helped, too. Supporting bloody dictatorship fed by oil money - that's the sad truth about today's Azerbaijan - results in... well, turn on the TV and watch.

by: RD
March 02, 2011 20:47
It would be interesting to see if Russian oil will actually flow through the proposed Nabucco pipeline. There is a big question whether Azerbaijan and other Central Asian countries can provide the necessary amount of oil and gas to make Nabucco viable.
As for the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, Bryza's biggest accomplishment would be if he can drill through Aliyev's head that spending billions on arms to resolve the conflict will not actually resolve the conflict. You are trying to resolve a conflict which was started by a conflict. Conflict will only produce more refugees, shootings across borders, economic disaster etc. It is high time Aliyev realizes this and spends his country's wealth building society instead of military.
In Response

by: Anonymous
March 05, 2011 02:25
My Dear RD
Azerbaijan has been advocating peaceful solution to NK conflict for many many years without results. If Armenia wanted peace with Azerbaijan, it would at least have left the 7 regions which are bordering to NK. This would have proved Armenian intention for peace. However, the fact that it still refuses to leave these regions proves that Armenia wants war. This is the reason why the President Aliyev is building strong millitary.
In Response

by: Anonymous
March 06, 2011 17:46

What a joke is this statement by the Anonymous commenter - every time there are talks between Azeri President Sultan Alyiev and his Armenian counterpart there are Artasakh soldiers killed by American trained Azeri snipers. Is this a sign of peace intentions?

And spending billions of $$ in stolen from its citizens oil revenue on arming Azeri army that exceeds the limits allowed by the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)? How is that a sign of peace?

The seven regions liberated from the Azeri yoke during the Artsakh War for Independence are part of the Republic of Artsakh and are protected by its Constitution. There are still parts of Artsakh and Armenia illegally occupied by Azeri-Turk regime including Northern Artsakh and Nakhijevan where Azeri nomads conduct cultural genocide against Armenian nation by destroying ancient Armenian churches, cemeteries and any other signs proving that these lands were populated by Armenians long before Azeri-Turk nomadic tribes moved from the Altai mountains of nowadays Russia.

by: Taxpayer from: USA
March 02, 2011 22:33

Mr. Bryza is sooo in the pocket of the BIG OIL & GAS that his title should be the Nabucco Ambassador to BP and Co Oil and Gas Fields and Pipelines.

BP needs people like him to cover up what it does in countries like Azerbaijan. This site would never publish such information, but BP had an event similar to what happened in the Golf in Azerbaijan prior to the US disaster and nothing was done about it.

And how exactly is he going to fight for democracy when Sultan Aliyev's regime paid for his lavish wedding in Istanbul, Turkey when he married his current Turkish wife Ms. Baran?

by: Hamik C Gregory from: Reno, Nevada USA
March 08, 2011 14:40
Forget all the fancy talks, arguments, and academic reasonings. Get rid of the semantical rigmarole and deal with the reality that Negorno Gharabagh is gone forever. It will never be part of Azerbaijan again. Baku should accept the fact bravely and digest this contemporary historical reality!

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