Khachatourian: Bryza’s ‘Groomsman’ Was Mammadyarov: Conflict or Convenience?

Last week at the Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearings, President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. ambassadorial post in Azerbaijan, Matthew Bryza, assured Senators that he would be impartial if confirmed to the top U.S. post in Baku and always serve U.S. interests.

The Azeri elite and the U.S. Azerbaijani community are elated at Obama’s choice of Bryza to represent U.S. interests, and the Azeri media has reported on the close relations that Bryza shares with Azeri leaders and the Baku establishment.

Bryza contends that neither his close relations to the Azeri elite nor his marriage to Turkish activist Zeyno Baran would taint his mission as the United States’ top diplomat in Baku.

Needless to say reports that a large portion of his wedding were paid for by Azeri energy minister Natik Aliyev resulted in the arrest of the journalists who broke the story. And what of Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov standing up for the blushing groom as a grooms man at the wedding?

“Today’s Zaman” reported at the time that Mammadyarov served as a “witness” alongside Bryza’s college buddies Mike Polacek and Mike Bordon. Clearly his “close” relations with Azeri leaders have transcended the realm of diplomatic norms and have spilled into his most intimate of moments—his marriage.

Despite the assurances Bryza gave to the Congressional panel tasked with facilitating the approval of his nomination by the entire Senate, it is evident that his nomination is fraught with conflicts of interest stemming from his too-close-for-comfort relationships with members of the Aliyev Administration.

At the hearing, Senators Bob Menendez, Barbara Boxer, and Jeanne Shaheen addressed concerns about the conflicts of interest plaguing his nomination, to which Bryza gave inconclusive responses.

The Obama White House has placed its appointees and nominees under a great deal of scrutiny, to the extent that some key positions have still not been filled. One wonders why the same formula is not being applied in the case of the top U.S. diplomat in Baku.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee must reject Obama’s nominee to represent U.S. interests in Azerbaijan and the president should withdraw Bryza’s nomination in favor of an individual who will genuinely represent U.S. interests in this key part of the world.

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