The U.S. Senate on Wednesday gave the green light to President Donald Trump’s pick to be his envoy to the Republic of Azerbaijan. The vote, cast verbally, to send Earle Litzenberger was unanimous. Litzenberger is from California and a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service.
Trump submitted the nomination of Litzenberger for the post to the Senate on September 12, but Litzenberger’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was not held until December 14.
Litzenberger will be the twelfth diplomat to serve as an American ambassador to Azerbaijan since Washington and Baku established diplomatic channels in 1992, a year after the South Caucasus country regained its independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Litzenberger is succeeding Robert Cekuta, who left Azerbaijan in April after three years of service.
Before being appointed as an envoy to Azerbaijan, Litzenberger was a Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department in Washington. He has also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Mission to NATO; the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, Serbia; and the U.S. embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Karim Sultanov, a political expert at the EurAsiaAz international expert group in Baku, says the main expectation from the new envoy is an increase in efforts to settling the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“The U.S. is the member of the Minsk Group. And we hope that Mr. Litzenberger will do his best to help the [conflict] sides to come to a consensus,” Sultanov told Caspian News. “Of course, this consensus and in general all suggestions would be accepted by Azerbaijan only in case if they do not exclude Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.”
The Minsk Group, as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), is a special mediation tool set up in the 1990s to find a peaceful solution to the decades-old conflict, which came about as a result of Armenia’s military aggression against Azerbaijan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Three senior diplomats from France, Russia and the United States, act as the Minsk Group’s co-chairs.
Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts have been occupied by Armenia since the early 1990s, following a four-year full-scale war that claimed the lives of over 30,000 Azerbaijanis and displaced one million more. Armenia has ignored four UN Security Council resolutions to withdraw its forces from the occupied regions, perpetuating the conflict and maintaining what are high tensions between two countries that were once part of the USSR.
Sultanov said Litzenberger's appointment comes at a time when there is a deep confrontation between Russia and the west due to the Ukrainian conflict, tensions in the Middle East, and accusations that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“In this case, the fact of appointment of [former] Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Mission to NATO as the ambassador of U.S. to Azerbaijan shows that Washington highly appreciates the cooperation with Azerbaijan in the entire Caucasian region, which locates close to Iran and Russia. And the work and efforts expected from Mr. Litzenberger, in my opinion, will be connected to military partnership in addition to economic and political collaboration. The U.S. is seen to want a strong partner in the region where there are big international players such as Russia.”