Menendez Holds up Appointment of New US Ambassador to Armenia

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WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) — Sen. Robert Menendez, (D-NJ), has delayed congressional confirmation of a diplomat nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the next US ambassador to Armenia.

The nominee, John Heffern, had his first confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee two weeks ago. The committee was scheduled to continue the consideration of his candidacy late last Tuesday.

The discussion was postponed until the next committee meeting, expected in September, at the request of Menendez.

The Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) quoted Menendez as telling its leaders that he needs more time to review Heffern’s answers to his questions regarding the World War I-era slaughter of some 1.5 millions Armenians in Ottoman Empire. The AAA said the lawmaker “remains troubled by the administration’s wordsmithing regarding US affirmation and recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”

Heffern refused to describe the massacres as genocide during the July 13 committee hearing. He said “the characterization of those events is a policy decision that is made by the president of the United States and that policy is enunciated in his April 24 Remembrance Day statement.”

Obama declined to use the word genocide in that statement, contrary to his promises given to the influential Armenian-American community during the last US presidential race.

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Menendez openly expressed his dissatisfaction with Heffern’s remarks on the sensitive subject. “This is an inartful dance that we do … We have a historical knowledge of the facts which we accept that would amount to genocide, but we are unwilling to reference it as genocide,” he complained on July 13.

In separate statements, the AAA and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) praised the senator. “The administration should heed Menendez’s call and take the next logical step to its stated position — unequivocally reaffirming this crime against humanity as genocide,” said Ardouny, the AAA executive director.

“The painful spectacle of watching a senior US diplomat forced to dance and dodge around the plain truth … undermines US interests and compromises American values,” said Aram Hamparian, ANCA’s executive director.

Menendez already blocked in 2007 congressional confirmation of Richard Hoagland, another career diplomat nominated for the top US diplomatic post in Yerevan, for the same reason. The administration of then-President George W. Bush was forced to make another ambassadorial appointment.

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