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Obama Envoy Appointment Welcomed By Azerbaijan

Matthew Bryza
Matthew Bryza

BAKU/YEREVAN -- A decision by U.S. President Barack Obama to directly appoint a new ambassador to Azerbaijan whose nomination had been stalled by lawmakers for months has been welcomed by Baku but criticized by an Armenian-American lobbying group.

Obama on December 29 bypassed the usual Senate confirmation process to appoint four new envoys whose nominations had been held up, including new Azerbaijan envoy Matthew Bryza.

So-called recess appointments are temporary, lasting only until the end of the next session of Congress.

Bryza's candidacy for the vacant post in Baku, formally put forward by Obama in spring, met with strong resistance from some Armenian-American groups over what they said was Bryza's pro-Azerbaijani bias.

Azerbaijan responded by welcoming Bryza's appointment. "We are ready to cooperate with the new ambassador and wish him success," an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman told Interfax.

Bryza formerly served as the U.S. co-chair of the Minsk Group, which seeks to broker a settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, the region that broke away from Azerbaijan after a war in the 1990s and is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians.

The deputy chairman of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, Ali Ahmedov, said Baku expects the new envoy to help step up U.S. mediation of those peace talks.

"So far the Minsk Group [of mediators] has not achieved results satisfying Azerbaijan, and the conflict remains unresolved," Ahmedov said, according to the Trend news agency. "Naturally, the U.S. is also somewhat responsible for that."

The Washington-based Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which has lobbied hard against Bryza's congressional confirmation, was quick to denounce the unilateral appointment.

Speaking to RFE/RL, the group's executive director, Aram Hamparian, said, "This should be a moment for the U.S. government to turn the page on a failed policy of appeasing Azerbaijan and [Azerbaijani President Ilham] Aliyev and their threats to renew war and it should mark an opportunity for them to challenge that. But instead, they're sending somebody to Baku who has a record of essentially silence, acquiescence, [and] appeasement of Azerbaijan's war rhetoric and that's just going to dig a deeper and deeper hole for U.S. policy."

Hamparian also said that Bryza's appointment bypassing the Senate's usual procedure "undermines the legitimacy and the credibility of the U.S. envoy."

The Armenian Assembly of America, another influential lobbying group, did not immediately react to the development. It has previously echoed Armenian-American concerns about Bryza's candidacy but stopped short of openly opposing it.

Armenia's government, for its part, has refused to comment on the nomination controversy. Bryza frequently met with Armenian leaders in his previous capacity as deputy assistant secretary of state and the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Bryza's appointment comes after two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez, placed a "hold" on a full Senate vote on the nomination in September.

They said the nominee failed to address their concerns about his alleged pro-Azerbaijani bias in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Menendez claimed that Bryza's "very close personal ties to Turkey and Azerbaijan" compromise his "ability to act as an unbiased representative of the United States in Azerbaijan."

Bryza denied such ties as well as pro-Azerbaijani statements attributed to him in the past during Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings in July and in his subsequent written answers to some U.S. legislators.

In a statement, the U.S. Azeris Network (USAN), an advocacy organization which has supported the Bryza nomination, called his appointment a "triumph of U.S. national interests and security over [the] special interest of two senators and one ethnic community."