Senators Menendez and Boxer led Senate Foreign Relations Committee scrutiny of US Ambassador to Azerbaijan nominee.
WASHINGTON—Following intense questioning by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on a range of issues dealing with the Aliyev regime’s ongoing attacks against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh and the demolition of the centuries old Armenian cemetery in Djulfa, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday approved the nomination of Richard Morningstar for US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
“We would like to thank Senators Boxer and Menendez for spotlighting the Aliyev regime’s escalating violence and war-rhetoric against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh and ensuring a robust confirmation process for the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan nominee,” stated ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian. “We need an effective U.S. envoy in Azerbaijan – one who will stand up to an autocratic regime which remains an obstacle to peace through its anti-Armenian attacks and vitriol. Upon full Senate approval, we look forward to working with Amb. Morningstar to ensure a balanced policy in the region which respects the right to self-determination of the people of Karabakh.”
In a statement submitted at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting earlier today, Senator Boxer outlined a number of issues she hoped Ambassador Morningstar would prioritize during his tenure in Azerbaijan. “It is absolutely critical that Ambassador Morningstar use his position to respond to and counter the Government of Azerbaijan’s escalating acts of aggression and threats against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh,” explained Sen. Boxer, who went on to call on the nominee to “urge the Azerbaijani government to comply with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group 1994 ceasefire agreement,” and carry out an investigation into the Azerbaijani demolition of the Armenian cemetery in Djulfa. Senator Boxer’s complete statement is provided below.
Senator Boxer also submitted a series of questions in the days leading up to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote, where her concerns about the June 4-6 Azerbaijani attacks against Armenia and Karabakh were evident. “If confirmed, how will you respond, publicly and privately, to new acts of aggression that now extend beyond the Nagorno-Karabakh region into the Armenian-Azerbaijani border area?” asked Sen. Boxer, followed by “How will you specifically work to ensure that the Azerbaijani government respects the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group negotiated ceasefire?”
Ambassador Morningstar reiterated the blanket calls by Secretary Clinton urging all sides to “exercise restraint, comply with their obligations under the 1994 ceasefire agreement, and take the steps necessary for peace.” He then went on to explain, “If confirmed, I will work with U.S. Minsk Group Co-Chair Robert Bradtke and engage at the highest levels of the Azerbaijani government to urge respect for the ceasefire and strengthen its implementation.” In response to a follow up question by Senator Boxer where she referenced President Ilham Aliyev’ recent proclamation that, “[Azerbaijan’s] main enemies are Armenians of the world,” Ambassador Morningstar was more direct. “If confirmed, I will make the case that irresponsible rhetoric is unacceptable and undermines our efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict. I will urge the Azerbaijani government to show restraint in its rhetoric and to prepare its people for peace, not war,” noted Morningstar.
Referring to the Azerbaijani Government’s destruction of the centuries old Armenian cemetery in Djulfa as “an affront to religious freedom,” Sen. Boxer asked, “will you commit to attempt to travel to Djulfa to investigate the destruction of the cemetery? What steps will you take to ensure that other religious sites and monuments in Azerbaijan are protected?” Ambassador Morningstar pledged to “make every effort to visit the cemetery at Djulfa. I will also amplify our concerns to the Government of Azerbaijan and stress the need to respect and safeguard Armenian religious and cultural sites in Azerbaijan.”
Morningstar responded similarly during robust questioning by Senator Menendez during his confirmation hearing last week. “What we need to do is to take very strong positions as an Administration and in Baku, if I’m there, to protect the rights of the Armenian Church, as well as to rectify the situation with respect to the cemetery. And that would be a major part of the agenda.”
In addition to focusing on recent Azerbaijani attacks and the Djulfa cemetery desecration, Senator Menendez expressed concern about pending U.S. military equipment sales to be used on Azerbaijani helicopters for border monitoring purposes. Citing Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian rhetoric and recent attacks, Senator Menendez stated unequivocally, “I have a real problem with going ahead and selling military hardware to the Azerbaijanis based upon what has happened.” Watch Senator Menendez’ questions and Morningstar’s responses.
In a series of seven policy recommendations to the Obama Administration and Congress regarding efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, the ANCA has called to “suspend all military aid to Azerbaijan, and stop the sale or transfer to Baku of any military equipment or dual-use items (including the proposed sale of advanced helicopter-based surveillance equipment – DDTC 12-002).”
Statement By Senator Boxer Submitted To The Senate Foreign Relations Committee
June 19, 2012
Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be voting on the nomination of the Honorable Richard L. Morningstar to be Ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan.
While I will support his nomination, I would like to briefly mention a number of important things that I hope to see Ambassador Morningstar make a priority during his tenure as Ambassador.
First, it is absolutely critical that Ambassador Morningstar use his position to respond to and counter the Government of Azerbaijan’s escalating acts of aggression and threats against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. I am so pleased that in response to a question submitted for the record, Ambassador Morningstar pledged that “if confirmed, I will make the case that irresponsible rhetoric is unacceptable and undermines our efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict. I will urge the Azerbaijani government to show restraint in its rhetoric and to prepare its people for peace, not war.”
Second, in the face of growing tensions, it is essential that Ambassador Morningstar urge the Azerbaijani government to comply with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group 1994 ceasefire agreement and work toward a comprehensive solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis.
And finally, it is imperative that Ambassador Morningstar fulfill the commitment he made during his nomination hearing to do everything he can to travel to the Djulfa Armenian cemetery to investigate its appalling 2005 desecration by Azerbaijan.
I look forward to working with Ambassador Morningstar as he addresses these and many other challenges in the South Caucasus region, and thank him for his service to our country.