Obama nominates Bryza as ambassador to Azerbaijan

President Obama late this afternoon officially nominated Matthew Bryza as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, which has been without a senior U.S. envoy for more than a year. Bryza’s nomination now goes for confirmation in the U.S. Senate. The nomination may salve Azerbaijan, which has griped bitterly that the U.S. appears to have forgotten an ally ...

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama late this afternoon officially nominated Matthew Bryza as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, which has been without a senior U.S. envoy for more than a year. Bryza's nomination now goes for confirmation in the U.S. Senate.

The nomination may salve Azerbaijan, which has griped bitterly that the U.S. appears to have forgotten an ally that stuck closely with it throughout the 1990s, in particular taking the risk of going against Moscow in the construction of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

Bryza's name was sent to the White House for nomination during the Bush Administration. Yet the nomination languished within both the Bush and Obama administrations until now for publicly unexplained reasons. According to people with intimate knowledge of the nomination, however, the main reason has been because of a 2008 fiasco in Georgia, whose President, Mikheil Saakashvili, under the false impression that someone in the U.S. government -- many suspected Bryza -- had promised him U.S. assistance should Russia attack Georgia, started a war in the Georgian region of South Ossetia. Russia responded with a forceful military attack on Georgia, then effectively absorbed both South Ossetia and the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, which was a momentous blow for Georgia. Along the way, Russia bombed all around the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, and the U.S. lost much hard-won prestige in both the Caucasus and Central Asia.

President Obama late this afternoon officially nominated Matthew Bryza as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, which has been without a senior U.S. envoy for more than a year. Bryza’s nomination now goes for confirmation in the U.S. Senate.

The nomination may salve Azerbaijan, which has griped bitterly that the U.S. appears to have forgotten an ally that stuck closely with it throughout the 1990s, in particular taking the risk of going against Moscow in the construction of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

Bryza’s name was sent to the White House for nomination during the Bush Administration. Yet the nomination languished within both the Bush and Obama administrations until now for publicly unexplained reasons. According to people with intimate knowledge of the nomination, however, the main reason has been because of a 2008 fiasco in Georgia, whose President, Mikheil Saakashvili, under the false impression that someone in the U.S. government — many suspected Bryza — had promised him U.S. assistance should Russia attack Georgia, started a war in the Georgian region of South Ossetia. Russia responded with a forceful military attack on Georgia, then effectively absorbed both South Ossetia and the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, which was a momentous blow for Georgia. Along the way, Russia bombed all around the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, and the U.S. lost much hard-won prestige in both the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Bryza had a close personal relationship with Saakashvili, and they spoke with some frequency by cell phone; Bryza was dispatched to Georgia following the attack. Bryza insisted that he gave Saakashvili no assurances, and in fact told him explicitly that he was on his own militarily should he get into a rumble with Russia. Yet, the perception of over-stepping his instructions has stuck, and it is bound to be a principal subject of the nomination hearings. In general, for a nominee to a second-tier post such as Baku, Bryza has an unusual number of critics within the State Department

In addition to Georgia, senators are likely to raise the issue of Bryza’s wife, Zeyno Baran, a scholar at the Hudson Institute. Critics note that Baran is a Turkish national, and say she is too close to Turkish government officials. Baran has said she is wholly a scholar on regional affairs, and dismisses assertions that she is exceedingly close to any government she studies.

<p> Steve LeVine is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, and author of The Oil and the Glory. </p>

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