Washington, 31 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Washington is once again engaged in what is popularly known as the "diplomat shuffle," when dozens of new ambassadors are being appointed by the President to replace others who are retiring or moving on to different posts.
Several of the ambassador-designates appeared before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, seeking approval and explaining why they are qualified for the job. Among the nominees were ambassadorial hopefuls to Croatia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.
Ambassadors are appointed by the president, who is from the Democratic party, but must be confirmed by the Senate, which is controlled by the opposition Republican party.
However, there were no partisan challenges during Wednesday's hearing, nor were there disputes over the nominees' qualifications. All were said to be seasoned, experienced diplomats with high records of achievement.
But each was still asked to outline how he would handle the new post.
Stanley Escudero, the nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, said one of his top priorities will be to help bring a balanced resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia.
Escudero has served in a variety of sensitive diplomatic posts including as special envoy for humanitarian aid to Tajikistan, then later as the U.S. Ambassador to that country. His most recent post was as U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan.
Escudero said that as ambassador, he will urge Azerbaijan to deepen its political and economic reform.
He also said he will urge the U.S. Congress to repeal the law which restricts U.S. government assistance to Azerbaijan. Congress approved the law in 1992 to protest Azerbaijan's blockade of Armenia, but Escudero said it is a serious obstacle to improving relations with the U.S. and "precludes" America from assisting Azerbaijan in the development of democratic institutions.
William Montgomery, the nominee for ambassador to Croatia, said he will spend his tenure working toward achieving peace and long-term stability in southeastern Europe.
Montgomery said Croatia has an important role to play in implementing the Dayton Accords, including fully cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal and resolving the massive refugee problem created by war and strife in the region.
Montgomery brings a unique qualification to the post -- for the past nine years he has worked in the region as a special advisor to the U.S. President and Secretary of State for Bosnian peace implementation.
Steven Pifer, nominated as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, has been in the State Department for nearly 20 years. He has held positions at U.S. Embassies in Warsaw, Moscow and London, and spent several years at posts around the world dealing with arms control issues.
Pifer is currently a special assistant to the President on National Security Affairs, and serves as senior director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council.
During his testimony, Pifer said Ukraine is a "prosperous state of critical importance." He said it is in America's best interest to help Ukraine accelerate its democratic reforms. He also said it is critical for the U.S. to urge Ukraine to create a "competitive, transparent and welcoming atmosphere" for foreign business.
Pifer said he believes Ukraine will be a "key partner" for the United States in international affairs, trade, investment and long-term regional stability. Joseph Presel, ambassador-designate to Uzbekistan, is also a seasoned U.S. diplomat. He spent a large part of his three decades of foreign service in the region. He has a degree in Russian literature, speaks fluent Russian, and told the Committee that he plans to learn the Uzbek language.
Presel praised Uzbekistan and said it was one of America's strongest supporters in the United Nations and a leader in establishing a Central Asian Peacekeeping Battalion, which participated in joint military exercises with U.S. troops last month.
However, Presel said he was disturbed by Uzbekistan's slow "step-by-step" approach to economic and democratic reform. Although there had been many encouraging changes in the nation over the last year, he said, negative developments outweighed the positive.
Presel said he would urge Uzbekistan to make its currency freely convertible, privatize its large-scale enterprises, reform its tax code, and cooperate with non-governmental agencies in the nation, especially those dealing with human rights.
The Committee also heard from Lynn Pascoe, U.S. Special Negotiator for Nagorno-Karabakh, whose status is being elevated to the rank of Ambassador.
Along with his position as a special negotiator, he is also the co-chair of the Minsk Group, which works full-time to resolve the conflict.
Pascoe said U.S. policy in the region is clear and concise. He said the U.S. wants to "promote the resolution of conflicts that hold back the social and economic progress in these countries; we want to help them develop their economies and democratize their societies; and we want to support the kind of regional cooperation that will give them the strength to counter the 'divide-and-rule' tactics of players ... that have plagued them for centuries."
Pascoe, a career diplomat, served more than two decades in various positions.
Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), who chaired the hearing, told RFE/RL that the Committee hopes to vote on the appointments next week.
The Committee's recommendation then goes to the full Senate, where all 100 members must vote on the nominations. A simply majority is necessary for confirmation.