A pro-Armenian member of the U.S. Senate blocked on Tuesday a planned vote on President Barack Obama’s choice of the new U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan opposed by some Armenian-American groups.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was scheduled to decide whether to pave the way for the congressional confirmation of Matthew Bryza’s nomination, which was announced by the White House in May.
Bryza was one of the most visible U.S. officials in the South Caucasus during the administration of former President George W. Bush, serving as deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. He was also the U.S. co-chair of the Minsk Group until last fall.
Reports from Washington said the committee vote was postponed at least until September at the initiative of Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California). The move was welcomed by the main Armenian advocacy groups in the United States.
“The hold-over requested today by Senator Boxer provides needed additional time for a closer look into a flawed nomination,” said Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), a vocal opponent of Bryza’s appointment.
“We appreciate Senator Barbara Boxer's determination to ensure that key policy issues are addressed,” Taniel Koushakjian, the grassroots director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said in a separate statement. Unlike the ANCA, the Assembly has not explicitly rejected Obama’s pick for the vacant post in Baku.
Boxer was among several pro-Armenian senators who questioned Bryza’s impartiality in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during committee hearings late last month. The Assembly statement said she “felt that her questions to Mr. Bryza were not answered directly.”
In particular, the former Bush administration official was pressed by Senator Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) on a pro-Azerbaijani statement attributed to him in 2008. He said it was incorrectly translated from Russian, and pledged to respect the concept of self-determination for Karabakh’s population.
Bryza also denied playing any role in the 2006 dismissal of the then U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, that was widely attributed to this public affirmation of the 1915 Armenian genocide.
It was Menendez who blocked congressional endorsement of Evans’s replacement nominated by Bush at the time. The senator’s so-called “hold” forced the Republican administration to propose another ambassadorial candidate to the Senate two years later.
Significantly, the pro-Armenian senators’ concerns seem to be shared by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In a recent letter to the State Department, Reid, who himself has a warm rapport with Armenian-American leaders, voiced misgivings about Bryza’s nomination.