White House Announces Next Ambassador to Azerbaijan

US President Barack Obama has announced his intention to nominate a career diplomat Robert Francis Cekuta to a key administration post as the Ambassador to Azerbaijan.

Cekuta is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Energy Resources at the State Department, a position he has held since 2011. He also has direct oversight over the Bureau's work on transparency and access to energy.

He previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy, Sanctions, and Commodities in the Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs, following his oversees assignments in Tokyo (2007 - 2009), Berlin (2003 - 2007) and other capitals where he led the US government's engagement on the full range of economic issues with two of the world's top economies.

After the official announcement from the White House, ambassadorial nominations must pass the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The nomination then comes to the Senate floor for approval.

According to some Azerbaijani watchers in the US capital, it will be "not be that easy" to get this nomination past the committee and the Senate floor amid growing concerns among some senators over the current situation of US-Azerbaijani relations, especially in a wake of the Azeri governments' narrowing space for the US-backed civil groups' activities in the country.

The move comes just days after the office of the US National Democratic Institute in Baku was officially closed, following the year-long official allegations claiming that US -funded democracy-development group turned a blind eye to Azerbaijan's financial disclosure rules and was paying contractors in wads of cash.

Top Washington officials recently have raised their voices amid Azerbaijan's 'dramatically worsening" rights situation, urging Ilham Aliyev government to "fulfill its obligations on the greater democracy, instead of heading further towards authoritarianism."

Ambassador Morningstar, who is about to leave Azerbaijan later this month, has recently been harshly criticized by the top Baku officials for his remarks in which he called on the authorities to stop the persecution of civil society organizations.

Speaking at the US-Azerbaijani Convention meetings in Washington DC on April 30 Morningstar emphasized the issues the "elephant in the room" in the bilateral relationship.

"We can't wish these issues away," he said. "We seem to talk past each other, and we are who we are, and we do hold strong democratic values, and when we see what we think are abuses or problems, we speak out, and we'll continue to speak out."


Alakbar Raufoglu

Washington, DC

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