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Richard Morningstar likely to be appointed U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan

Richard Morningstar likely to be appointed U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan

Morningstar’s designation seems to be quite reasoned: the envoy for Eurasian Energy must become a U.S. ambassador.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held confirmation hearing for U.S. Ambassador-Designate to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar.

PanARMENIAN.Net - Sen. Robert Menendez and Jeanne Shaheen brought to designee’s attention the recent escalation of violence by Azerbaijan at the border with Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. It is worth noting that in addition to its energy significance, U.S views Azerbaijan as an important instrument against Russia’s presence in the Caucasus.This is the reason the U.S. is reluctant to clearly respond to Azerbaijan’s continuing provocations against Armenia. Jeanne Shaheen and Robert Menendez sent a clear message that U.S. – Azerbaijan relations should not solely be founded on energy concerns and must reflect the fundamental issues of democracy building and human rights as well as finding a peaceful and lasting resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

However good the senator's intentions might be, since Bill Clinton's tenure, the White House administration has hoped for Azerbaijani oil supply to Europe, aiming to use it for reducing Iran’s supply to a minimum. A question emerges on how Azerbaijan, placed 19th with its oil reserves can compete with Iran, holder of a third of all global oil stock. Anyway, this is a rhetoric question; the U.S. just sees and hears what it wants to.

In this regard, Morningstar’s designation seems to be quite reasoned: the envoy for Eurasian Energy must become a U.S. ambassador. While Matthew Bryza was a person too notorious to become an envoy to Baku, Morningstar's candidacy is a more serious one, and he will hardly fail. Being a career diplomat, Richard Morningstar will demonstrate more responsibility in voicing his statements. This, at least, seems quite likely.

Speaking at the testimony, Sen. Menendez called specific attention to recent cross-border attacks by Azerbaijan against Armenia, threats by Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev to unleash a war, and his statement saying that “Azerbaijan’s main enemies are Armenians.”

“Do you think, based upon those types of statements that the proposed sale of military hardware to Azerbaijan is really in the national interest of the United States?” Menendez asked.

Morningstar responded that “any language that is counterproductive creates increased tensions and makes even more difficult the task of achieving the settlement in Nagorno Karabakh.” He stopped short, however, of expressly calling out Azerbaijan’s provocations against Armenia.

In terms of military sales to Azerbaijan, Morningstar said: “There are increasing tensions with Iran. And we have to provide military assistance in ways that cannot be used to exacerbate any situation with respect to Armenia or Nagorno Karabakh.”

Menendez was quick to respond:“I didn’t hear President Aliyev say ‘My main enemy or security concern is Iran,’ he said that, ‘Our main enemies are the Armenians of the world.’ I have a real problem with going ahead and selling military hardware to the Azerbaijanis based upon what has happened.”

Morningstar further stated that he is going to personally visit Djugha and “make every effort to” look into Azerbaijani destruction of the Armenian cemetery there.

In response to Sen. Menendez’s question whether the envoy nominee is really determined to do so Morningstar replied, “If I am confirmed I will make every effort to visit the cemetery and I will do my best to get there, and soon.” Menendez continued:“I would assume the only impediment to your best effort will be the Azerbaijanis not letting you go? I’m trying to understand what your “best effort” is? You’re going to do everything possible to go?”. “Yes,” replied Morningstar.

Sen. Menendez also pressed Morningstar regarding his position on the proper recognition of the Armenian Genocide. “I have to ask you whether or not you contest any of the facts what transpired in 1915 as it relates to 1.5 million Armenians who were brutally massacred in the Ottoman Empire?” he said. Morningstar replied: “No, I do not.”

The Senate Committee will most likely approve of this nomination to Baku. Of course, the senators may again find some reason to veto this candidacy; there will be plenty of causes to do so. Yet there is another circumstance as well: Obama’s rating is steadily declining, and he may well suspend the appointment, unless there is pressure by the Turkish-Azerbaijani lobby. However, Turkey and Azerbaijan recently face serious disagreements; these are not publicly voiced since the Turkish Foreign Ministry believes time has not come yet. Appointment of the ambassador may be linked to this somehow. In any case, one thing is clear; the U.S. is taking Azerbaijan and Ilham Aliyev seriously, and the appointment must take place.

Aliyev’s unpredictability and passion for shady deals may push him to resumption of hostilities, which by no means is in the interests of either the U.S. or the international community.

Karine Ter-Sahakian
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