Sen. Menendez Disappointed at Obama’s Recess Appointment of Bryza
WASHINGTON, D.C.—President Barack Obama, in the wake of his controversial last-minute “recess” appointment of Matt Bryza as ambassador to Azerbaijan in the final days of 2010, is now seeking formal Senate support for extending the term of this contentious envoy’s service in Baku, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The president’s recess appointment of Bryza, in the last days of the 111th Congress, came despite “holds” placed on his confirmation by Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
A “hold” is a Senatorial privilege that effectively blocks the full Senate from voting upon a presidential nomination. The president’s push to get Bryza to Baku reflects a lack of concern on the part of his administration regarding Bryza’s unusually close and controversial ties to Azerbaijani government officials, his deeply troubling track record as a senior diplomat dealing with the Caucasus, and persistent conflict of interest issues related to the Caspian energy industry.
“Armenian American voters are, once again, disappointed that President Obama—having failed to honor any of his many pledges to Armenian American voters—is now, over the strong objections of Senators from his own party, pressing for Senate confirmation of his controversial and deeply flawed recess appointment of Matt Bryza as ambassador to Azerbaijan,” said ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian. “We look to Senators to stand up for U.S. interests, American values, and our nation’s diplomatic credibility by doing everything in their power to prevent the confirmation of this candidate.”
Armenian Americans are encouraged to express their concerns about Obama’s decision, and to urge the Senate to block his confirmation by sending free ANCA WebMails using the links below.
ANCA WebMail to President Obama: http://anca.org/action_alerts/012711_bryza_president.php
ANCA WebMail to U.S. Senators: http://anca.org/action_alerts/012711_bryza_senate.php
Bryza, who had served as Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mink Group co-chair, charged with mediating the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict from 2006 through 2009, was nominated for U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan in May 2010. The ANCA opposed his nomination, issuing a 10-page report citing issues ranging from conflict of interest concerns to his prolonged inaction in the face of the Azerbaijani government’s destruction of the 13th-century Armenian cemetery in Djulfa, and his inordinately close ties to the dictatorial Aliyev Administration.
A complete overview of ANCA concerns can be found at http://www.anca.org/assets/pdf/misc/BryzaNomination.pdf.
Upon learning of Obama’s recess appointment of Bryza, Sen. Menendez expressed concern, stating, “I am disappointed by the administration’s decision to recess appoint Matthew Bryza as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan without addressing the concerns raised by Senators during his nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—chiefly his refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.”
Menendez continued, noting, “This is a matter of respect for the Armenian people. The Armenian Genocide was one of the great atrocities of modern history and it is unconscionable that we would send a diplomat to the region who does not support recognizing what is considered among historians to be the first modern genocide. It is my fervent hope that administration will adopt the comment made by President Obama in 2008 that ‘the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence’ as a tenet of U.S. foreign policy to be reflected in the words and actions of our foreign service personnel in the region.”
Following his Senate confirmation hearing in July 2010, Bryza was asked to respond to several rounds of written questions from Senators regarding his track record in the region. The holds by Senators Boxer and Menendez came after reviewing his testimony, written responses, and reviewing his diplomatic record, effectively blocking a vote on his nomination by the full Senate.
In her remarks during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on his candidacy, Boxer explained that she voted against the Bryza nomination because he had not demonstrated the willingness or the ability to meaningfully confront Azerbaijan’s aggression. “Despite my appreciation for Mr. Bryza’s long service as a Foreign Service Officer, I don’t believe he is the right person for this position,” explained Boxer. “What concerns me is that Mr. Bryza has demonstrated a pattern of unwillingness to speak out forcefully in the face of increasing Azerbaijani aggression against Nagorno-Karabagh.”
Menendez, who has played a constructive role in reviewing the Bryza confirmation process, noted that he had “serious reservations about the U.S. ambassador nominee to Azerbaijan,” citing Bryza’s inaction in the face of Azerbaijan’s desecration of the Djulfa cemetery and close personal ties to regional leaders, and therefore his ability to act as an unbiased representative of the United States in Azerbaijan.
Even Senators voting in favor of Bryza expressed worries about his nomination. The panel’s chairman, John Kerry (D-Mass.), stated that he appreciated the concerns raised by Senators Menendez and Boxer and anticipated continued Senate scrutiny. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) issued a statement following the vote, stating that he found concerns raised by constituents and others “troubling, particularly Mr. Bryza’s relationship with the Azerbaijan government.”