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Armenians voice concern over Obama's Yerevan envoy pick

21 May 2011 [09:50] - TODAY.AZ
The second-largest U.S. Armenian group late Thursday expressed concern over President Barack Obama's move to nominate career diplomat John Heffern as ambassador to Yerevan.

The Armenian Assembly of America, or AAA, said in a statement that its concern stemmed from the understanding that in the mid-1990s, Heffern worked for former Congressman Doug Bereuter, a Republican from Nebraska, "who was consistently one of the most pro-Turkish and anti-Armenian representatives to serve in Congress."

Obama on late Thursday nominated Heffern for the Yerevan post. Heffern should replace Marie Yovanovitch, who went to the Armenian capital as U.S. ambassador in 2008. "He (Heffern) will have a steep hill to climb in explaining and distinguishing his views from those of former Congressman Bereuter. For example, in 1995-1996, when Heffern was on the congressman's International Relations Committee staff, Bereuter voted against several measures aimed to promote not only Armenia's interests, but human rights interests around the world," the AAA said.

But the AAA's statement fell short of openly calling for Heffern's rejection at the Senate. Heffern is a career member of the senior Foreign Service, and currently serves as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. mission to NATO in Brussels. Earlier, Heffern served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia. His career also has included overseas assignments to Japan, Malaysia, Ivory Coast and China.

Under U.S. laws, all major administration officials, including ambassadors, need to obtain the Senate's confirmation. Ambassadorial nominees first appear before the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, and if they are approved there, the full Senate floor votes for or against them. But even one single senator has the authority to place a hold on any nominee.

Earlier record

Pro-Armenian senators have an impressive record of obstructing ambassadorial nominations in recent years. U.S. ambassador to Armenia John Evans was fired by former President George W. Bush in May 2006 after he publicly qualified World War I-era killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as "genocide," in violation of the official U.S. policy.

Bush the next year nominated career diplomat Richard Hoagland to replace Evans, but after a lengthy discussion at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pro-Armenian Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, blocked his nomination, accusing him for failing to recognize the "Armenian genocide." Menendez never withdrew his veto, and eventually Hoagland's nomination went nowhere.

Bush in 2008 nominated another career diplomat, Marie Yovanovitch, as ambassador to Yerevan. This time Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, temporarily put a hold to her nomination, but eventually withdrew it, which enabled Yovanovitch to assume her job in Yerevan.

Last year, two pro-Armenian senators blocked Obama's ambassadorial pick Matt Bryza for the Azerbaijani capital of Baku.

But employing a seldom-used authority called recess appointment, Obama in late December appointed Bryza to Baku when the Senate was out on recess. But Bryza still needs the Senate's approval, otherwise his job at his post in Baku will end at the end of this year.

/Hurriyet Daily News/

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