Senators Ask Trump Ambassadorial Nominee about Genocide, Democracy, Double Taxation Treaty

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By Haykaram Nahapetyan

WASHINGTON – The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hosted hearings of several nominees as ambassadors last week, including Lynne M. Tracy a native of Barberton, Ohio, who is President Donald Trump’s candidate to head the US diplomatic mission in Yerevan.

As has already happened in similar cases many times before, those senators who have a significant Armenian constituency, among them Ed Markey, D-MA, and Robert Menendez, D-NJ, raised questions that matter for their voters.

“The overall goal of Armenian policy remains an independent, democratic and prosperous Armenia, at peace with its neighbors, and we continue to affirm our commitment to sovereign Armenia, free to choose its own partners,” said Tracy in her opening remarks on December 4. For her full statement, see here.

As expected, the spring events this year in Armenia, when, as Tracy worded it, “hundreds of thousands took the streets with determination but without violence, to hold the government accountable,” were among the key points of the diplomat’s statement and again arose during the following question and answer session with senators.

“Armenia still has work ahead to cement the gains of the past six months,” Tracy said, and pledged that if confirmed, she would continue efforts to support Armenia’s democratic aspirations.

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The peace resolution of the Karabakh conflict is essential for the peaceful and prosperous future of both Armenia and the south Caucasus, Tracy noted. She referred to the Armenian Genocide without using this term as one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century, citing President Trump’s statement that such atrocities must not be repeated. If confirmed, she pledged, she would do everything in her power to remember the victims. She was harshly grilled on this topic later during the question session.

Tracy called Armenia America’s steadfast partner on many fronts, while referring to the Armenian diaspora of the US as an entity that further bolsters the relations between the two countries. Senator Markey in his remarks qualified the Armenian community as “maybe the most successful ethnic group in America,” while Robert Menendez considered it ironic that even though American diplomats visit the Armenian Genocide memorial in Yerevan (ambassadors as well as the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), “the Genocide word does not come out from our lips.” See the video of Markey’s and Menendez’s remarks here.

Senator Menendez expressed hope that the diplomat will further push for the U.S.-Armenia double taxation treaty and Tracy promised to look into this issue though this matter is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Treasury.

For some background, the treaty that regulates the tax arrangements between Yerevan and Washington, DC is the same one signed between US President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1973. Decades later this outdated Cold War-era document remains in force for Armenia because no treaty to replace it has been negotiated until now. The government of Armenia has expressed readiness to work on this and members of Congress, including Judy Chu and Bred Sherman repeatedly called both the previous and current administrations to resolve the problem. As an encouraging first step, in 2015 Armenia and the US signed the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).

Tracy, a career diplomat, previously served as deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Moscow; deputy assistant secretary for Central Asia in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the Department of State; deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan; and principal officer at the US Embassy branch office in Astana, Kazakhstan. She also was fired upon while driving to work at the US consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan in August 2008.

People: Lynne Tracy