Ambassadorial Yo-Yo Continues
It looks like John Kerry is failing me again, in tandem with the shrill Barbara Boxer and tepid Robert Menendez. It looks like Azerbaijan isn’t getting an ambassador until September, at the earliest. What a pain.
Matthew Bryza’s nomination hearing took place in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 22nd. You can read his short opening testimony here. Among the topics of the hearing were issues of conflicts of interest for both him and his wife, Turkish-born researcher Zeyno Baran, accusations of taking gifts from Azeri ministers (in particular for his wedding), and a story of Bryza in a car accident in Russia in 1997. A few other things came up, including Bryza’s oversight of $8 million allotted to relief in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and also his statement that territorial integrity should be honored by Armenia (a mistake according to the rules governing the OSCE Minsk Group, which Bryza attributed to a bad translation from Russian). And as expected, Bryza refuted all concerns, promising to be an unbiased negotiator, willing to take the hits and deliver the tough messages from America. Radio Free Europe has an excellent summary here.
To be fair, accusations of being biased should be taken seriously. And when you’re involved with Azerbaijani ministers, those accusations of bias could have some serious weight behind them. I would want no part in supporting a potential ambassador’s nomination if that person had received financial support for a wedding from an Azeri at all. Just the way things work here, and the fact that Bryza is liked by the Azeri government (and that he apparently likes them back!) is cause for concern. Yet, I think it’s also probably the case that Bryza is getting railroaded a bit by the Armenian lobbying groups, via Ms. Boxer, in order to delay Azerbaijan’s receiving an ambassador at all (FYI: California and Massachusetts, Kerry’s state, boast some of the largest concentrations of Armenians in the US). As The Economist notes:
The Armenian diaspora still remains a mighty force. As I write, they are organising the roasting of the American ambassador-designate to Baku, Matt Bryza, at his confirmation hearing in the Senate. This is not the place to discuss his case or prospects. But in my experience even the most conscientious and fair-minded officials shudder at the words “Armenian lobby”.
Or, as Laura Rozen suggests here, it could be the Russians, too. Warming of relations between the US and Azerbaijan may not be high in Russia’s priorities. One thing I find interesting is that doing a Google search for Bryza right now yields almost exclusively Armenian news sources trying to plow Azerbaijan’s nominee. Even the Huffington Post is getting in on it (written by an Armenian). The Azeri sources barely register, and it’s pretty slim pickings on their analysis of the situation (not that I really expected a lot).