The Cable

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Left behind

While observers scrutinized President Barack Obama’s speeches in Turkey today, including on whether he would use the word “genocide,” (he didn’t, but said he stood by his previous strong statements), the Armenian genocide issue appears to have possibly delayed at least one of his picks for a key foreign policy job from joining the trip. ...

While observers scrutinized President Barack Obama’s speeches in Turkey today, including on whether he would use the word “genocide,” (he didn’t, but said he stood by his previous strong statements), the Armenian genocide issue appears to have possibly delayed at least one of his picks for a key foreign policy job from joining the trip.

While observers scrutinized President Barack Obama’s speeches in Turkey today, including on whether he would use the word “genocide,” (he didn’t, but said he stood by his previous strong statements), the Armenian genocide issue appears to have possibly delayed at least one of his picks for a key foreign policy job from joining the trip.

Obama’s pick to be assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs, Philip Gordon, got left behind from Obama’s big trip to Europe. A source tells The Cable that Gordon “had his bag ready to go.” Though he’d been grilled hard during his nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on Armenia and the Turkish “occupation” of Northern Cyprus, Sen. Menendez ultimately decided not to block him and actually abstained in committee vote rather than vote no.

But, at the last minute Friday, an unidentified Senator put Gordon’s confirmation on hold during the floor vote, delaying the vote until after Congress’s two-week Easter recess – and Obama’s big trip to Europe, of course.

The reason for the delay isn’t clear, but sources pointed to this press release from the Armenian National Committee of America welcoming it. “We see this delay as a meaningful opportunity for senators to weigh the merits of approving a nominee with a record of arguing against both executive branch and congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide – a position at direct odds with the strong moral stand taken by the President that the U.S. should clearly and fully condemn this crime against humanity,” Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA, said in the group’s press release. “We look forward, during Genocide Prevention Month this April, to President Obama honoring his pledge to recognize the Armenian genocide.”

Gordon didn’t respond to a query. But associates note that his expertise — NATO, the EU, Turkey and Russian stuff — might have proved relevant to Obama’s itinerary. Associates said Gordon had been working incredibly hard in possible preparation for the trip with no official title, while preparing for his confirmation hearings. “What kind of system is that?” a pal lamented.

Also left behind: Obama’s pick to be U.S. ambassador to Nato, Ivo Daalder, whose confirmation hearing has not been scheduled yet. What did he miss? Just Nato’s 60th anniversary summit.

Daalder said he couldn’t comment. An associate noted that Daalder’s situation isn’t exactly the same as Gordon’s — his confirmation hasn’t been put on hold, just that his nomination hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet. "There is some thought that his nomination hearing was held over to the other side of the Easter recess to avoid having a change of ambassadors during the NATO summit," a Democratic Senate staffer said. "At least one Republican member on the committee raised that concern.  But Obama wanted him in place prior to the trip."

The current U.S. ambassador to Nato, Kurt Volker, previously told The Cable the summit was a big success. “President Obama scored a huge success at his first NATO summit — a strong sense of transatlantic unity, a common strategy and some significant new contributions on Afghanistan, two new NATO members, France reintegrating into NATO military structures for the first time since the 1960’s, and the decision to write a new NATO strategic concept to focus NATO on the security threats of the future,” Volker said in an e-mail. “Pretty big stuff.”

UPDATE: It appears that it was Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev) who put the hold on a floor vote on Gordon’s confirmation.

Laura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.

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