WASHINGTON — John Heffern, the administration’s nominee to serve as ambassador of the US to Armenia, faced a series of questions on a range of issues during the recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing chaired by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), reported the Armenian Assembly of America.
Presiding over the hearing, Foreign Relations Subcommittee Chair on European Affairs, Shaheen began the round of questioning and touched on the Protocols between Armenia and Turkey, the current status of the Nagorno- Karabagh talks and prospects for peace, as well as the importance of democracy and free and fair elections, especially in the context of the upcoming national elections in Armenia in 2012 and 2013. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) emphasized the importance of democratization and queried Heffern about the steps he would take to assist Armenia’s development.
In response to Shaheen’s questions, Heffern indicated that the United States strongly supported the Protocols signed between Armenia and Turkey in October 2009, and indicated that the administration remains “committed to doing whatever we can to encourage the two parties to get the protocols back on track.” Heffern also stated that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “has made it clear” that “the ball is in Turkey’s court.” With respect to the Nagorno- Karabagh peace process, Heffern noted that President Barack Obama and Clinton have been “deeply involved” and “remain committed” to the OSCE Minsk Group process to find “a lasting, peaceful and just solution to this conflict.”
On the democracy front, Heffern noted a series of positive steps that the Armenian government has taken in the last six months and indicated that if confirmed he would continue to build on this progress and the work of former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
In Heffern’s opening testimony, he indicated that “the Obama Administration has strengthened US relations with Armenia,” and noted that last April the presidents “of our two countries held their first bilateral meeting in 10 years, and when Secretary Clinton visited Yerevan last year, it was the first visit by a Secretary of State to Armenia in 19 years.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) welcomed Heffern’s opening statement which reiterated Obama’s position on the Armenian Genocide: “President Obama has recognized and deplored the horrific events that took place in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. He has publicly called the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians at this time one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. The president has urged Turkey and Armenia to work through their painful history to achieve a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts. If confirmed, I will do my best to fulfill the president’s vision.”