WASHINGTON (Combined Sources)–Former Wall Street Journal and New York Times Caucasus and Central Asia correspondent Steve LeVine reported on his blog Friday that Matthew Bryza’s nomination to be ambassador to Baku is proceeding.
Bryza, who served as the US Co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group until last year, was hinted at being next in line for the post after Anne Derse, the former envoy to Baku was transferred to Lithuania in July.
“I’ve received confirmation that–after the clearing of a couple of remaining administrative hurdles — the White House will officially nominate Bryza as U.S. ambassador,” Levine said on his blog. “He will then be scheduled for a nomination hearing in the Senate.”
LeVine predicted the upcoming hearings would be “lively” because “Bryza himself has been something of a lightning rod of attention.”
“Over recent years, I received fairly frequent emails griping about this or that impolitic (read: anti-Russian) speech that Bryza delivered on his journeys, and his inexhaustible supply of rationales for building the ill-fated Nabucco natural gas pipeline. Bryza seemed to rub the Foggy Bottom crowd the wrong way when he made no secret of his desire for the Azeri post, and when it seemed he might get it since he was a favorite of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice,” LeVine said, commenting on the diplomat’s days as the deputy assistant secretary of state for Eurasian affairs.
He said the 2008 Georgian-Russian war would likely occupy much of the confirmation hearings. “Bryza was extremely close to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and Bryza’s critics assert that he helped to mislead Saakashvili into thinking he could expect U.S. military assistance should he run into trouble while he attacked South Ossetia in August 2008.”
“The fiasco was an enormous blow to U.S. prestige, because it led governments throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia to understand that, contrary to what at least some of them believed, they couldn’t expect U.S. help in a confrontation with Russia,” he added.
“In the end, Bryza has been watching and working on the region’s most important topics for more than a decade from the inside,” LeVine noted, adding that Bryza’s experience would be seen as helpful for a US administration trying to salvage a failing rapprochement process between Armenia and Turkey.
“He can hit the ground running, the first order of business being smoothing over the tension over the Turkey-Armenia accord, which itself appears to be in trouble. The likelihood seems that all the topics will be aired, and Bryza will be confirmed,” LeVine said.
Bryza’s name came into the fold late in 2008, when the outgoing Bush administration recommended that a U.S. diplomat heavily involved in U.S. policy to Georgia and the Caucasus during the 2008 Georgian-Russian war become the next U.S. ambassador to Baku.
But the nomination didn’t materialize, and the U.S. has had no ambassador in Baku since last July. Commenting on LeVine’s report, Politico Blogger Laura Rozen explained that the position remained vacant because Bryza was “perceived as too pro-Georgia and tough on Russia.” She also noted that concern existed “about the financing of the think tank work of his wife, Turkish analyst Zeyno Baran, at the Hudson Institute.”