June 20, 2012 - 10:25 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - On June 19, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to approve a number of Ambassadorial nominees, including Richard Morningstar, whom the Obama Administration designated to serve as Ambassador to Azerbaijan, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly).
Morningstar's nomination comes amid Azerbaijan's brazen June 4 ceasefire violation. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) stated that it was "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." Responding to Senator Boxer's question submitted for the record, Ambassador-designate 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."
During last week's confirmation hearing, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) also raised serious concerns about Azerbaijan's cease-fire violations that coincided with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's June visit to the South Caucasus region, and asked Ambassador-designate a series of pointed questions about the resulting escalation of tensions and U.S. policy to restrain Azerbaijan's bellicosity.
Ambassador-designate Morningstar stated in response that there is no higher U.S. priority in the region than "the peaceful solution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict." In addition, the nominee pledged: "I will do everything that I can to discourage" inflammatory language or any "actions that bring about loss of life," and create increased tensions or instability.
Other Senators have also expressed concerns whether U.S. policy is tilted toward Azerbaijan in view of its oil resources, which finances its mounting purchases of offensive weapons. Both Morningstar and his predecessor designee, Matthew Bryza, have been active in facilitating negotiations over pipeline deals transporting Caspian oil to the West.
"The Armenian Assembly continues to be deeply troubled by Azerbaijan's incessant war-mongering, including reports by RFE-RL that a kindergarten in the village of Chinari was peppered with bullets by Azerbaijan's June cross-border incursion," stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. "This is simply unacceptable," Ardouny added.
In the Assembly's letter to all Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as its June 4th letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Assembly urged that the deplorable actions by Azerbaijan be "roundly condemned" and stated that all options must be on the table, including "fully enforcing Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act" as well as "ceasing all U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan."
Responding to the Assembly's letter on behalf of Secretary Clinton, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Philip Gordon stated that "the United States has urged the parties to refrain from the use or threat of force, [and] as a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk-Group, we remain committed to working with the sides to achieve a peaceful settlement." In addition, the letter stated that U.S. "security assistance to the region is carefully considered to ensure it does not undermine efforts for a peaceful settlement in Nagorno Karabakh.
Having cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the next step in the nomination process is for the full Senate to approve Morningstar's nomination.