White House Uses “Recess Appointment” to Send Envoy to Baku without Senate Confirmation
WASHINGTON– Despite Senate opposition, driven by Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced that he is making a recess appointment of Matt Bryza as U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The President’s action, in the final days of the 111th Congress, comes despite serious concerns regarding Bryza’s unusually close and controversial ties to Azerbaijani government officials, his deeply troubling track record as a senior diplomat dealing with the Caucasus, and persistent conflict of interest issues related to the Caspian energy industry.
“Armenian Americans are deeply troubled by President Obama’s decision today to circumvent the U.S. Senate and use a recess appointment to send a deeply flawed diplomat to represent America in Azerbaijan” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
“The President’s push to send Matt Bryza to Baku without Senate approval represents a disservice to American diplomacy that will, sadly, undermine our nation’s ability to advance our interests and values in the Caucasus region.”
“President Obama, whose Administration only a week ago helped kill the Armenian Genocide Resolution in the U.S. House, has again demonstrated an utter disregard for his own campaign commitments on issues ranging from the Armenian Genocide and Nagorno Karabagh to U.S. aid and trade with Armenia.”
Bryza, who had served as Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mink Group Co-Chair, charged with mediating the Nagorno Karabakh conflict from 2006 through 2009, was nominated for U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan in May of 2010. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) opposed his nomination, issuing a 10-page report citing issues ranging from conflict of interest concerns to his prolonged inaction in the face of the Azerbaijani Government’s destruction of the 13th Century Armenian cemetery in Djulfa, and his inordinately close ties to the dictatorial Aliyev Administration.
Following his Senate confirmation hearing this July, Bryza was asked to respond to several rounds of written questions from Senators regarding his track record in the region. After reviewing his testimony, written responses, and reviewing his diplomatic record, Senators Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez placed a “hold” on Mr. Bryza’s nomination, effectively blocking a vote on his nomination by the full Senate.
In her remarks during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on his candidacy, Senator Boxer explained that she voted against the Bryza nomination because he had not demonstrated the willingness or the ability to meaningfully confront Azerbaijan’s aggression. “Despite my appreciation for Mr. Bryza’s long service as a Foreign Service Officer, I don’t believe he is the right person for this position,” explained Senator Boxer. “What concerns me is that Mr. Bryza has demonstrated a pattern of unwillingness to speak out forcefully in the face of increasing Azerbaijani aggression against Nagorno Karabakh.”
Senator Menendez, who has played a constructive role in reviewing the Bryza confirmation process, noted that he had “serious reservations about the U.S. ambassador nominee to Azerbaijan,” citing Bryza’s inaction in the face of Azerbaijan’s desecration of the Djulfa cemetery close personal ties to regional leaders, and therefore about his ability to act as an unbiased representative of the United States in Azerbaijan.
Even Senators voting in favor of Bryza expressed worries about his nomination. The panel’s Chairman, John Kerry (D-MA), stated that he appreciated the concerns raised by Senators Menendez and Boxer and anticipated continued Senate scrutiny. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) issued a statement following the vote, stating that he found concerns raised by constituents and others “troubling, particularly Mr. Bryza’s relationship with the Azerbaijan Government.”
“Sadly, President Obama chose not to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Senators Boxer and Menendez to get U.S. diplomacy toward Azerbaijan and the region off to a fresh start, without an ambassadorial nominee with a record of bias and extensive baggage,” added Hamparian.
With a hold in place, the Senate returned his nomination to the White House, which then opened up the possibility for a recess appointment. In addition to Bryza, President Obama, also today, issued recess appointments for the U.S. ambassadors to Turkey, Syria and the Czech Republic.
According to Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, “The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” The Senate will have the opportunity to review this decision in approximately one year.