WASHINGTON, DC — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on Tuesday to approve a number of Ambassadorial nominees, including Richard Morningstar, whom the Obama Administration designated to serve as Ambassador to Azerbaijan.
Morningstar’s nomination comes amid Azerbaijan’s brazen June 4th cease-fire violation. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) stated today 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.
Having cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the next step in the nomination process is for the full Senate to approve Morningstar’s nomination.