Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Robert Menendez Reiterates Key Concerns
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the final days of the 115th Congress, last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed by a voice vote Ambassadorial nominees Lynne M. Tracy and Earle D. Litzenberger to represent the United States in Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively.
Last month, during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) business meeting on the nominations, Ranking Member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) explained his support for both candidates, as well as the importance of strong U.S.-Armenia relations.
“Armenia and the Caucasus region will continue to be vital to regional and global security. According to the OSCE, Armenia’s elections over the weekend met international standards. I look forward to supporting the government’s efforts to build strong democratic institutions, a vibrant Armenian economy, and oppose any efforts to violate Armenia’s sovereignty,” Ranking Member Menendez said.
During Ambassador-designate Tracy’s nomination hearing she promised to support Armenia’s “remarkable” democratic reforms. As to questions at the hearing by SFRC Ranking Member Menendez and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) on the Armenian Genocide, she agreed that “1.5 million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their death in the final years of the Ottoman Empire” in 1915, but fell short of properly categorizing the killings as genocide.
“Throughout my time in the Senate, I have advocated for an honest accounting of the Armenian genocide. I believe we have a moral imperative to recognize the atrocities that were committed against the Armenian people. Ms. Tracy’s experience in Russia and Central Asia positions her to help navigate U.S. policy in this critical time. I support this nomination, but expect to work closely with Ms. Tracy on how she will encourage an honest acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide, support Armenia’s ongoing efforts to ensure accountable, citizen-responsive governance, and support efforts to reach a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” he added.
During the SFRC business meeting, Senator Menendez also noted the importance of safety in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), and his expectations for the U.S. Ambassador selected to be the representative in Azerbaijan.
“I support Mr. Litzenberger’s nomination and expect to have close and continuing dialogue with him on how he will urge the Azeris to step back from any threatening behavior that could disrupt the line of contact in Nagorno Karabakh, support respect for human rights, and support efforts to reach a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict,” Senator Menendez said.
The hearing for Ambassador-designate Litzenberger occurred in October, wherein he restated the U.S. position condemning violence along the line of contact, which undermines the peace process and violates the 1994 cease-fire agreement.
“We appreciate the important issues raised by Senators Robert Menendez and Ed Markey during the confirmation process. We look forward to working with the new Congress to ensure robust assistance to further Armenia’s democratic development,” Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny said.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Richard Mills, concluded his tenure in Yerevan in October 2018, whereas former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Robert Cekuta, concluded his tenure in Baku in March of 2018. Interestingly, the post of U.S. Ambassador in Ankara has been vacant since October 2017, with no nomination pending.
Lynne M. Tracy of Ohio is a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, currently serving as Senior Advisor for Russia Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Previously, she served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia; 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 U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan; and Principal Officer at the U.S. Embassy Branch Office in Astana, Kazakhstan. Additionally, Ms. Tracy served as the Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan, where she was awarded the Secretary’s Award for Heroism. She is the recipient of the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award. Ms. Tracy earned her B.A. from the University of Georgia and J.D. from the University of Akron.
Earle (Lee) Litzenberger is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor. He has served as the Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM) since January 2018. Mr. Litzenberger has served as Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Mission to NATO, Brussels (2014-2017), the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia (2010-2013) and the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (2006-2009). He was the NATO Deputy Senior Civilian Representative in Kabul, Afghanistan (2013-2014). His other overseas assignments include the U.S. Mission to the European Union, Brussels, and the U.S. Embassies in Kazakhstan, Bulgaria and Algeria, and the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille, France. Mr. Litzenberger has also served at the Department of State in Washington, in the Office of the Deputy Secretary, the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. He holds a B.A. in History from Middlebury College and an M.S. in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. Mr. Litzenberger speaks French, Russian, Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that he will be traveling to Russia and all three Caucasus nations this month for talks with senior officials.
In a tweet on October 11, Bolton said he would depart on October 20 for Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
Bolton’s visit to the Caucasus comes on the heels of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s meeting with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent in Yerevan on October 15. During that meeting, Pashinyan reiterated that “Armenia is moving forward on [a] path to democracy, which is an inner belief and value for our society,” according to a tweet from the Armenian government. The “Fight against corruption, reforms in different spheres & #NKconflict” were also discussed.
While in Russia, Bolton will meet with senior Russian leaders, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.
The scheduled Bolton visit to Russia comes at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria as well as alleged Kremlin interference in U.S. elections.
In August, Bolton told Patrushev that the United States “wouldn’t tolerate meddling” in the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. Bolton also said U.S. sanctions against Russia would remain in place until Moscow changes its behavior.
Therefore, it was no surprise that on October 19, the day before Bolton was scheduled to depart on his trip, the Justice Department brought its first criminal case over alleged Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections.
According to POLITICO, “Elena Khusyaynova, 44, a St. Petersburg, Russia-based accountant, was charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to defraud the United States for taking part in a scheme to spend in excess of $10 million since the beginning of the year on targeted social media ads and web postings intended ‘to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system.’”
In a tweet on October 12, Georgian Foreign Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said the upcoming visit of Bolton to Georgia would “further strengthen the deep friendship and strategic partnership between” the United States and Georgia.
It is interesting to observers that in September President Trump announced his nomination of a new U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Lynne Tracy, as current U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills wraps up his three year tour. Meanwhile, there has been no U.S. ambassador in Azerbaijan, or Turkey, since Trump took office two years ago. The fact that there is no gap in the high-level U.S. presence in Armenia, and that President Trump only last month nominated a representative to the the one of the two hostile muslim countries, indicates the strengthening U.S.-Armenia partnership, and symbolizes the decreased importance of Turkey and Azerbaijan as they continue to engage in activities that run counter to U.S. interests in the region.
On Monday, April 23, 2018, the newly installed Prime Minister of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, resigned amid 10 days of rallies and protests in Yerevan calling for his resignation. The peaceful protests were led by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan of the Civic Contract Party, who was arrested the night before, along with 2 other Members of Parliament. All three were released hours before Sargsyan’s resignation. Below is Serzh Sargsyan’s statement:
I am addressing all citizens of the Republic of Armenia,
The elderly and my dearest youth,
Men and women,
I am addressing those who stood on the streets day and night with “Reject Serzh” calls and those who were reaching their offices with difficulty and carrying out their duty without complaining,
I am addressing those who were following the live broadcast for days and those who were ensuring public order for day and night mainly,
I am addressing our courageous soldiers and officers who are standing at the border, I am addressing my brothers in arms,
I am addressing my fellow party-men, all political forces and politicians,
I am addressing you for the last time as leader of the country.
Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was wrong. The situation has several solutions, but I will not take any of them. That is not mine. I am leaving office of the country’s leader, of Prime Minister.
The street movement is against my tenure. I am fulfilling your demand.
I wish peace, harmony and reasoning for our country. Thank you.”
Following his resignation, Deputy Prime Minister Karen Karaptyan was sworn in as Prime Minister.
“On behalf of the U.S. government and people I want to praise the Armenian people for peacefully and worthily conducting their protest during the past week”, U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills told reporters as he visited the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial on April 24.
The “Reject Serzh” movement began on March 31 in Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city. Pashinyan and about a dozen activists began a march from Gyumri to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. Along the way, the crowds grew. Days after reaching Yerevan, the crowds reached over 100,000 people, mostly young people who rejected the Putin-model of government that is sweeping across the region.
In the days before Sargsyan’s resignation, about 250 activists were arrested along with Pashinyan, and things looked like they were about to boil over. During the 2008 protests in Armenia, 10 people were killed and hundreds arrested. However, this time was different – not a single shot was fired. There were some reports of violence, but nothing on the scale of previous protest movements. In fact, some members of the Armenian military and police joined the protesters. In the end, Sargsyan heard the calls of the people and stepped aside.