Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, placed a “hold” on the nominee, Matthew Bryza, echoing concerns over his alleged anti-Armenian bias that are expressed by Armenian-American advocacy groups.
Boxer announced the decision just hours after the Senate committee overwhelmingly approved Bryza’s candidacy. She and another pro-Armenian Democrat, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, were the only committee members to vote against.
“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,” Boxer reportedly said after the vote. “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-Karabakh.”
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), an influential lobbying group that has led Armenian-American opposition to the ambassadorial appointment, swiftly welcomed the hold. “Thanks to Senator Boxer, U.S. diplomacy dodged a bullet today,” its executive director, Aram Hamparian, said in a statement. “It would have been a serious mistake … to have sent Matt Bryza to Baku amid escalating threats of renewed war by Azerbaijan's leaders.”
“Given his track record, he clearly would have been the wrong diplomat, at the wrong time, in the exactly the wrong post,” added Hamparian.
Boxer already forced the Senate panel to delay the vote, originally scheduled for August 3, after grilling Bryza, together with several other senators, during confirmation hearings held in late July. In particular, the diplomat was pressed on his alleged personal ties to Turkey and Azerbaijan and a pro-Azerbaijani statement attributed to him in 2008.
Bryza, who previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Central Asia and Washington’s chief Nagorno-Karabakh conflict negotiator, insisted that the statement was incorrectly translated from Russian. He also denied playing any role in the 2006 dismissal of the then U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, which was widely attributed to the latter’s public affirmation of the 1915 Armenian genocide.
It was Menendez who blocked congressional endorsement of Evans’s replacement nominated by President George W. Bush at the time. The senator’s “hold” forced the Bush administration to propose another ambassadorial candidate to the Senate two years later.
The ANCA hopes that Obama too will have to withdraw Bryza’s candidacy. “Sen. Boxer's hold prevents full Senate consideration of the Bryza nomination, effectively blocking his confirmation for this ambassadorial post,” read its statement.
The Armenian Assembly of America, another advocacy group that has not openly opposed Bryza’s appointment, was more cautious, saying in a separate statement that the move “could delay the nomination until November when Congress reconvenes for a lame duck session.”
The session will come shortly before mid-term congressional elections in the United States. Boxer is facing a tight reelection battle in California, a state with a sizable Armenian-American community.