- The Washington Times
Thursday, December 30, 2010


Matthew Bryza‘s supporters cheered this week when President Obama ignored Senate opposition and appointed the career diplomat to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Central Asian nation of Azerbaijan. They also accused two senators who had blocked his nomination of abusing their power.

The appointment is a “triumph of U.S. national interests and security over the special interest of two senators and one ethnic community,” the board of directors of the U.S. Azeris Network said in a statement, adding that the board “wholeheartedly congratulates” Mr. Bryza.

The board, which represents Americans of Azerbaijani heritage, claimed Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, andSen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, bowed to political pressure from Armenian-Americans, who opposed Mr. Bryza’s appointment.

Mrs. Boxer and Mr. Menendez blocked the Senate from voting on his nomination, so Mr. Obama appointed Mr. Bryza after Congress adjourned. Any senator can place a “hold” on a presidential appointment that requires Senate consent.

Mr. Bryza’s tenure as ambassador is only temporary because the Constitution requires the Senate to review recess appointments by the end of the next calendar year. That means one of the most controversial diplomatic nominations of the Obama administration is likely to be re-fought before Dec. 31, 2011.

The U.S. Azeris Network said Mrs. Boxer and Mr. Menendez “abused their powers by virtually interrogating Mr. Bryza about everything from the birthplace of his wife to his finances and wedding gifts.”

It accused the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian Assembly of America of “intense lobbying and hysteria” in their opposition to Mr. Bryza.

Mrs. Boxer and Mr. Menendez had expressed their concerns for issues raised by Armenian-Americans when they sharply questioned Mr. Bryza at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in September.

They shared Armenian-American criticism that Mr. Bryza was too close to Azeri and Turkish officials and biased against Armenians. Mr. Bryza’s wife is Turkish, and Azeri news reports claimed Azeri officials paid for Mr. Bryza’s wedding. Mr. Bryza has repeatedly denied that report and told the Senate committee that he paid for his own wedding.

His critics also fear he tilts against ethnic Armenians, who claimed independence for the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

A spokeswoman for the ANCA on Thursday denounced Mr. Obama for the recess appointment and accused him of breaking campaign pledges to Armenian-Americans, who form powerful voting blocs in states like California and New Jersey.

“He has disregarded his campaign pledges — one after the other — when it comes to U.S. policy toward Armenia, Turkey and the Caucasus. So, sadly, this [appointment] follows that trend,” said Elizabeth Chouldjian.

She cited Mr. Obama’s campaign pledge to recognize as genocide the killing of at least 1 million Armenians in the Ottoman Turkish empire during World War I.

ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian called Mr. Bryza a “deeply flawed diplomat.”

“The president’s push to send Matthew Bryza to [Azerbaijan] without Senate approval represents a disservice to American diplomacy that will undermine out nation’s ability to advance our interests and values in the Caucasus region,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

• James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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