Another pro-Armenian member of the U.S. Senate has blocked congressional confirmation of Matthew Bryza, President Barack Obama’s pick for the next U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, it emerged late on Wednesday.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) said Senator Robert Menendez joined fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer in placing a “hold” on a full Senate vote on the controversial nomination.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee paved the way for the vote when it overwhelmingly approved Bryza’s candidacy earlier on Wednesday. Menendez and Boxer were the only members of the panel to vote against.
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 committee hearings in July and in his subsequent written answers to some U.S. legislators.
The ANCA, which remains strongly opposed to his appointment, has dismissed his explanations. “We are deeply grateful to Senators Boxer and Menendez for preventing this grave diplomatic misstep,” its executive director, Aram Hamparian, said in a statement.
“Our hope now is that the President will nominate a new candidate who will openly stand up to Azerbaijan's aggression and forcefully deter its march toward renewed war against Nagorno-Karabakh,” added Hamparian.
Speaking before the announcement of Menendez’s “hold,” some Armenian-American leaders told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Bryza is still likely to secure the Senate endorsement shortly after the November mid-term elections to the U.S. Congress. Boxer is facing a tight reelection battle in California, a state with a sizable Armenian-American community and an ANCA stronghold.
Menendez’s decision to also block the confirmation process may have significantly changed the situation. The New Jersey Democrat already forced the White House in 2008 to withdraw the nomination of another career diplomat, Richard Hoagland, for the then vacant post of U.S. ambassador to Armenia.
The senator thus protested against the 2006 dismissal of the previous ambassador, John Evans, widely attributed to his public affirmation of the 1915 Armenian genocide.
The Armenian Assembly of America, another influential lobbying group, has also echoed Armenian-American concerns about Bryza’s candidacy but stopped short of openly opposing it. In a statement on Wednesday, the Assembly noted that Bryza voiced support for the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement, 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 has frequently met with Armenian leaders in his previous capacity as deputy assistant secretary of state and Washington’s chief Karabakh negotiator.