The White House announced this and three other “recess appointments” of ambassadors late on Wednesday after failing to secure their endorsement by the “lame-duck” Senate.
Bryza’s candidacy for the vacant post in Baku, formally nominated by Obama in spring, met with strong resistance from some Armenian-American groups and their backers in the U.S. Congress. Two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez, placed a “hold” on a full Senate vote on the controversial nomination in September.
They said the nominee failed to address their concerns about his alleged pro-Azerbaijani bias in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Menendez claimed that Bryza’s “very close personal ties to Turkey and Azerbaijan” compromise his “ability to act as an unbiased representative of the United States in Azerbaijan.”
Bryza denied such ties as well as pro-Azerbaijani statements attributed to him in the past during Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings in July and in his subsequent written answers to some U.S. legislators.
Armenia -- President Serzh Sarkisian meets OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs Matthew Bryza, Bernard Fassier and Yury Merzlyakov in Yerevan, 21Apr2009
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which has lobbied hard against Bryza’s congressional confirmation, was quick to denounce the unilateral appointment. “Armenian Americans are deeply troubled by President Obama's decision today to circumvent the U.S. Senate and use a recess appointment to send a deeply flawed diplomat to represent America in Azerbaijan,” its executive director, Aram Hamparian, said in a statement.
The Armenian Assembly of America, another influential lobbying group, did not immediately react to the development. It has previously echoed Armenian-American concerns about Bryza’s candidacy but stopped short of openly opposing it.
In a September statement, the Assembly noted that Bryza voiced support for the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement, proposed by international mediators and largely accepted by Armenia, during the Senate hearings. It also pointed to his remark that there can be “no military solution” to the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute.
Armenia’s government, for its part, has refused to comment on the nomination controversy. Bryza frequently met with Armenian leaders in his previous capacity as deputy assistant secretary of state and the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group on Karabakh.
Bryza also regularly traveled to Karabakh and held talks with its ethnic Armenian leaders, both on his own and together with the group’s French and Russian co-chairs. The diplomat used the disputed territory’s Armenian name, Artsakh, when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service before one such trip in April 2009.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan on Thursday welcomed Bryza’s appointment. “We are ready to cooperate with the new ambassador and wish him success,” an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Interfax news agency.
The deputy chairman of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, Ali Ahmedov, said Baku expects the new envoy to help step up U.S. mediation of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. “So far the Minsk Group has not achieved results satisfying Azerbaijan, and the conflict remains unresolved,” Ahmedov said, according to the Trend news agency. “Naturally, the U.S. is also somewhat responsible for that.”