Controversial U.S. Envoy to Turkey Nominee Francis Ricciardone Yet to be Confirmed
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate voted by unanimous consent last night to approve John Heffern’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to Armenia, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“Although we remain disappointed with a number of his responses to Senate inquiries, we look forward, in the coming months and years, to working with Ambassador Heffern to expand U.S.-Armenia relations on the basis of commonly held values and shared interests, with particular focus on the bilateral trade and investment issues,” commented ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, upon Heffern’s confirmation. “Ambassador Heffern can play a vital role in expanding U.S.-Armenia trade, which has yet to reach the $200 million a year mark, by leading the way toward a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and an updated Double Taxation Treaty. With these accords in place and a firm commitment by all stake-holders to act decisively and pro-actively, there is no reason we can’t reach more than a billion dollars a year in bilateral trade within the next five years.”
By contrast, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey nominee Francis Ricciardone, who was to be fast-tracked for consideration on the floor, along with the nomination of John Heffern, has yet to be scheduled for Senate confirmation. Ambassador Ricciardone has been the subject of considerable controversy, having faced opposition within the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) prior to the panel’s approval of his nomination. During the committee’s deliberations of Ricciardone’s nomination, Menendez explained that he had lost confidence in his abilities after Ricciardone submitted clearly false information concerning the destruction of Christian churches in Turkey. Menendez’s concerns over the persecution of religious minorities in Turkey were echoed by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.).
Heffern Questioned on Administration’s Armenian Genocide Policy
During Heffern’s July 13 confirmation hearing, Menendez had pressed him regarding the Obama Administration position regarding the Armenian Genocide, and also about his own understanding of this crime. The nominee cited the killing of over 1.5 million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire, but stopped short of properly referencing these acts as “genocide,” arguing that “the characterization of those events is a policy decision that is made by the president of the United States. He added that this policy is enunciated in the president’s April 24 Remembrance Day statement.”
Menendez remarked, “This is an inartful dance that we do. We have a State Department whose history is full of dispatches that cite the atrocities committed during this time. We have a convention that we signed on to as a signatory that clearly defines these acts as genocide. We have a historical knowledge of the facts that we accept would amount to genocide. But we are unwilling to reference it as genocide. And if we cannot accept the past, we cannot move forward. And so I find it very difficult to send diplomats of the United States to a country in which they will go–-and I hope you will go, as some of your predecessors have- to a genocide commemoration and yet never be able to use the word genocide. It is much more than a question of a word. It is everything that signifies our commitment to saying ‘never again.’ And yet, we can’t even acknowledge this fact and we put diplomats in a position that is totally untenable.”
Sen. Boxer joined Menendez in submitting written questions to Heffern following his confirmation hearing. Menendez had deferred committee consideration of Heffern’s nomination to allow broader Senate scrutiny of the candidate.
Heffern is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and serves as the deputy chief of mission at USNATO, Brussels. Prior to his current post, Heffern served as deputy chief of mission and executive assistant to the undersecretary for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia.
Heffern’s career has also included overseas assignments to Japan, Malaysia, Ivory Coast, and Guangzhou, China. From 1994-96, he served as a Pearson Fellow on the Asia Sub-Committee for the House International Relations Committee. Prior to entering the Foreign Service, he served in the Office of Senator John C. Danforth as the Senator’s Office Director and Research Assistant. He Heffern received a B.A. from Michigan State University.
Heffern replaces former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch, who returned to the U.S. in June to serve as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Northern and Central Europe.