OSCE Minsk Group: James Warlick Steps Down, Richard Hoagland Assumes Co-Chair Position

Posted: 9:53 pm PT
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The US embassies in Armenia and Azerbaijan announced that Ambassador James Warlick, Co-Chair for the Minsk Group is stepping down effective December 31.  Ambassador Richard Hoagland will assume the position on an interim basis starting in January 2017.

Ambassador Richard E. Hoagland will assume the position of U.S. Co-Chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group on an interim basis starting in January 2017. He replaces Ambassador James B. Warlick, who will step down on December 31.

Ambassador Hoagland brings over 30 years of diplomatic experience to the position. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan from 2003 to 2006, U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan from 2008 to 2011, and as Deputy Ambassador to Pakistan from 2011 to 2013. Ambassador Hoagland most recently led U.S.-Russian military coordination for the Cessation of Hostilities in Syria and served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the State Department in Washington. Prior to these assignments, Ambassador Hoagland led the Office of Caucasus and Central Asian Affairs in the Bureau of Europe and Eurasian Affairs and was Press Spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Ambassador Hoagland’s extensive diplomatic experience will be critical as the United States works with the sides toward a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The United States continues to call on the parties to maintain their commitment to the ceasefire and to implement agreements reached at the Vienna and St. Petersburg summits, and urges a return to negotiations on a settlement, which would benefit all sides.

The permanent replacement for Ambassador Warlick will be announced at a future date.

Meanwhile — things are heating up again over there:

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U.S. Embassies in Armenia and Azerbaijan Restrict USG Travel to #NagornoKarabakh and Surrounding Territories

Posted: 1:04 am ET
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U.S. Embassy Baku “strongly advises private U.S. citizens to avoid travel to NK and the Embassy continues to prohibit the travel of U.S. government personnel to NK.  Consular services are not available to U.S. citizens in NK or the occupied territories surrounding it.  U.S. citizens are also reminded that travel across the Azerbaijan-Armenia international border is not possible due to ongoing hostilities.  Travelers should remain clear of the border areas and comply with Azerbaijani checkpoints set up to keep travelers from hazardous areas.”

Excerpt below from US Embassy Yerevan’s Security Message:

The Embassy is aware of reports that indicate a serious escalation in violence along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) region and occupied territories, which include reports of civilian casualties.  The U.S. Embassy continues to prohibit the travel of U.S. government personnel to NK.  The U.S. Embassy also strongly advises private U.S. citizens to avoid travel to NK. U.S. consular services remain unavailable to U.S. citizens in NK and the surrounding territories.

The security situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in the Tavush Province continues to remain tense as well. Travel by U.S. government personnel to this border area is restricted. Villages and their connecting border roads in this area that are affected by these restrictions include, but are not limited to, Vazashen, Varagavan, Paravakar, Aygepar, Azatamut, and Barekamavan. The Embassy notes this area also includes the segment of the frequently traveled route between Yerevan and Tbilisi on M-16/H-26 from Azatamut through Jujevan to the Georgian border.

Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, including local events, monitor local news stations for updates. Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security

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U.S. Embassies Baku and Yerevan Restricts USG Personnel Travel to Armenian-Azerbaijani Border

— Domani Spero
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Over the weekend, the US embassies in Baku and Yerevan issued emergency messages to the respective U.S. citizens in their host countries alerting them of the security situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.  U.S. government personnel travel to this border area is now restricted. US Embassy Yerevan also notes the increased tensions along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

US Embassy Yerevan, Armenia |August 2, 2014 via

Due to increased tension in the security situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in the Tavush Province, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan advises U.S. citizens to avoid travel to this border area.  U.S. government personnel travel to this border area is restricted.  Villages and their connecting border roads in this area include, but are not limited to, Vazashen, Varagavan, Paravakar, Aygepar, Azatamut, and Barekamavan.  The embassy notes this area also includes the segment of the frequently traveled route between Yerevan and Tbilisi on M-16/H-26 from Azatamut through Jujevan to the Georgian border.  

Tensions have also increased along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  Consular services continue to be unavailable to U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories.

US Embassy Baku, Azerbaijan | August 2, 2014

Due to recent escalation in hostilities at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, the U.S. Embassy in Baku advises U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border near the line of contact.  Consular services are no longer available to U.S. citizens in that area.  U.S. government personnel travel to the area is restricted for security reasons.

Note that Ambassador Richard L. Morningstar who was appointed to Azerbaijan in 2012 has recently announced his departure (pdf) from post after a two-year tenure. Prior to his appointment to Baku, he was the Secretary of State’s Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy.

A related note — last month, the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group expressed their serious concern about the increase in tensions and violence, including the targeted killings of civilians, along the Line of Contact and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The Co-Chairs urged the parties “to commit themselves to avoiding casualties and rejected the deliberate targeting of villages and the civilian population. They called on the Foreign Ministers to defuse tensions and adhere to the terms of the ceasefire.”  Over the weekend,  the Co-Chairs expressed their deep concern about the intense upsurge in violence along the Line of Contact and Armenian-Azerbaijani border that resulted in numerous casualties reported in recent days. They released the following statement:

The Chairperson-in-Office and the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group said that they were deeply concerned about the fact that a clearly marked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) vehicle came under fire while assisting the local population on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on a humanitarian mission. They strongly condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians and shooting at representatives of international organizations and reminded the parties of their obligations under Geneva Conventions.

They appealed to the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to take immediate action to defuse tensions and respect the ceasefire agreement. Retaliation and further violence will only make it more difficult to continue efforts to bring about a lasting peace, the Chairperson-in-Office and the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group emphasized. They also urged the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume as soon as possible negotiations on peaceful settlement of the conflict, being the only way to bring peace and genuine reconciliation to the peoples of the region.

 

You might remember that the Minsk Group came out of the OSCE Budapest Summit in 1994 tasked with convening a forum for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict involving Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Twenty years on and they’re still at it. The Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group are Ambassadors Igor Popov of the Russian Federation; Pierre Andrieu of France; and James Warlick of the United States.

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Dear State Department, Can You Please Keep Your Deputy Spokesperson In The Loop!

— By Domani Spero

We are on Day 4 of the shutdown.   Except for the employees from the Inspector General Office (and the International Water Boundary Commission) who were furloughed on the first day of the shutdown, the State Department is open and operational.  Naturally, folks are interested on two things: 1) how long can the State Department sustain its worldwide operation without new funding and 2) how many people had been furloughed.

The State Department is full of smart people. We imagine that they know exactly how long the carryover funds would last before Congress shut down the government, and they know exactly how many employees will be furloughed immediately after the lapse in appropriation.  To say that we are still crunching the numbers the day after the shutdown doesn’t make a lot of sense. Everybody knew this was coming.  And for the spokesperson not to have funding and furlough numbers four days into the shutdown is simply absurd.

We should note that the spokesperson only talks about what The Building allows him/her to talk about. Once he/she says it on the podium, it is official. So if they sound like broken records, at times, that’s because they are repeating their talking points. They do not talk beyond the chalk marks around the talking points.  Their value is in their ability to stick to their talking points without antagonizing the press even if the press runs around the room after them half a dozen times.

On Day 3 of the shutdown, it went like this:

QUESTION: Today’s Washington Post editorial was referring to the issue of the securities of the – let’s say, the embassies.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And in the same time, the policy – or at least now the policy is to keep the embassies open. How you justify this? Is it a risk to leave it open or not?

MS. HARF: No. So we’re not taking risks with our security at our embassies overseas right now. Clearly, that posture hasn’t changed. We always take security as the highest priority overseas with our embassies and our people. What I had mentioned at the beginning is it will be harder for us to continue to augment that security. So the longer we go on, the longer the shutdown goes on, we can’t get new DS agents up and trained to go overseas and continue augmenting our security, as we’ve talked about for a long time.

But our security posture remains the same, and the reason the embassies and consulates are open is because that’s really the forefront of the diplomatic work we do every day. We process visas. We get American citizens passports. We have American citizen services all over the world. We just saw a few weeks ago, when we had to shut some embassies temporarily because of a terrorist threat, all the questions and the concerns around that. Our goal is always to have them open. That’s why we’re there in a lot of places around the world.

Yes, Deb, and then I’ll go to you, Scott.

QUESTION: Shutdown?

MS. HARF: Shutdown, yeah.

QUESTION: You mentioned a few furloughs, okay. So that begs the question: How many?

MS. HARF: I know. Everyone wants specific numbers. I don’t have a specific number for you.

QUESTION: Why is it so hard to get a number?

MS. HARF: It’s just – I don’t have it. These are complicated things. We’re talking to the offices about what we can get you in terms of numbers. We just don’t have it right now.

QUESTION: You mean fewer than 10 or —

MS. HARF: It’s a small number. I just don’t have the actual number for you.

QUESTION: Fifty or less?

MS. HARF: I’ll see if I can – I will see if I can do something for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m not trying to be too cute by half here; I just don’t have a number.

Then today this happened:

Screen Shot 2013-10-04

There are three possibilities we can think of here: 1) no one in Foggy Bottom knows how to count; 2) the State Department leadership does not want the numbers released for whatever reason; 3) the spokesperson is purposely kept out of the loop, so these numbers are not on her briefing book.

Seriously folks.

We don’t want to beat up @marieharf.  We do think it undermines the credibility of the agency’s public face when she is unable to answer fairly simple questions.  These are not “complicated things” unless they have been made purposely so.  To what end, we do not know.

Can you imagine Ambassador Richard Boucher the longest-serving Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and spokesman in the U.S. Department of State’s history unable to answer these simple questions?  We can’t either.

In related news, we are starting to see tweets from official State Department accounts saying: “Due to the lapse in appropriations this Twitter feed will not be updated regularly. Please visit @StateDept for updates.” And this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-04

Still waiting for an answer to the “why” question. It’s not coming? Okay.

Wait, here’s one answer:

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 3.13.52 PM

What we’re seriously wondering is if the State Department’s twitteratis have been asked to “consider the perception” of “business as usual” on Twitter during a shutdown.  We’re full of serious, today — have they?

Just now we received word from a political nightingale, “We’ve also been told, even though we are working, that we are NOT to give speeches. At all.” 

Okay, that probably also means, all official receptions at posts are off including receptions for new ambassadors just getting to post – because. Optics. 

Updated at 7:07 EST with Ambassador Warlick’s response, and update on no speeches allowed. 

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