State Department’s Arrogant Behavior May Doom Second Nominee for Armenia

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the next U.S. Ambassador to Armenia on June 19. The nominee is Marie L. Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, until recently U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic.

Last March, when I first disclosed Pres. Bush’s plans to submit Amb. Yovanovitch’s name to the Senate as his nominee for Armenia, I suggested that the State Department consult the leadership of the Armenian-American community in order to resolve in advance any possible complications in the upcoming Senate confirmation hearing. Regrettably, this constructive suggestion was ignored by those who are referred to as "Baby DASes" (Deputy Assistant Secretary) by their more experienced senior colleagues at the State Department.

The series of errors committed by the "Baby DASes" on this subject began when the Bush administration, at the urging of Turkey, decided to recall John Evans, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, for having uttered the words Armenian Genocide during his 2005 tour of Armenian communities in California. Undermining their own credibility, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza and Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried repeatedly denied reports by this columnist that Amb. Evans’ diplomatic career was about to be terminated.

After Amb. Evans was actually recalled, the State Department refused to provide any explanation either to Members of Congress or the Armenian-American community. Months later, when Pres. Bush nominated Amb. Richard Hoagland as the next envoy to Armenia, Sen. Robert Menendez (D.N.J.) placed a hold on his confirmation after the nominee questioned the validity of the Armenian Genocide during the Senate hearing. From the Armenian perspective, the hold also sent a clear message to the Bush administration that the Armenian-American community was profoundly angry and resentful of the White House actions on the genocide issue.

I suggested back then that the State Department meet with the leadership of major Armenian-American organizations to discuss the Evans/Hoagland controversy. Instead of engaging in constructive dialogue, the Bush administration continued its reckless path and nominated Amb. Hoagland for a second time. It was therefore not surprising that Sen. Menendez placed a second hold, which further humiliated the President and the State Department. Only then did the Bush administration realize the futility of its efforts and withdrew Amb. Hoagland’s nomination for good.

This ridiculous scenario may well be repeated on June 19 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The State Department’s "Baby DASes" have once again ignored the suggestion I made last March. Instead of meeting with leaders of the major Armenian-American organizations, as done in the past, they have gone through the motion of selectively meeting with two or three groups in recent days. These meetings were reportedly unproductive due to the limited number of participants and lack of a sincere desire by the State Department to discuss and resolve the issues at hand.

Another possible complicating factor is Sen. Menendez’s recent announcement that he intends to question the new nominee very carefully and would not hesitate to place a hold on Amb. Yovanovitch’s nomination if she does not satisfactorily answer his questions on the Armenian Genocide. It is not known if the State Department has received any assurances from Sen. Menendez in this regard.

It is understandable that the Armenian government would like to have the United States represented in Armenia by someone with ambassadorial rank. So does the Armenian-American community. However, it is in the interest of both Yerevan and Washington that the person representing the United States in Armenia can effectively carry out her diplomatic duties. Not allowing her to speak truthfully about the Armenian Genocide, while working in the midst of three million Armenia’s, will make her job very difficult, if not impossible!

It would be regrettable, but understandable, if a Senator placed a hold on Amb. Yovanovitch’s confirmation, should she provide less than truthful answers to Senators’ questions on the Armenian Genocide. The U.S. record on this issue is very clear, particularly in the light of the recent revelation of a U.S. government document submitted to the World Court in 1951 acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. This acknowledgment was reiterated by Pres. Reagan in his 1981 Presidential Proclamation, as Pres. Bush did during his 2000 presidential campaign. Therefore, should Amb. Yovanovitch use the term Armenian Genocide during the upcoming Senate hearing, she would be the one telling the truth, not the "Baby DASes" who are trying to muzzle her.

Finally, while it is desirable and even important for Armenia to have a U.S. Ambassador in Yerevan, it is even more important that the U.S. government treats its Armenian-American citizens with dignity and respect and holds an open dialogue with them on critical issues. Allowing Washington to trample on the rights of the Armenian-American community and dismiss its concerns would not be in the interest of the United States, Armenian-Americans and the Republic of Armenia.

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