The Cable

Bush administration's Georgia ties complicate possible Baku appointment

Two Washington Russia hands tell The Cable that a senior State Department official who liaised intensively with the Georgian leadership, including during the Russian-Georgian conflict last summer, is being recommended by supporters as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan.

They express some concern that the appointment of Matthew Bryza, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs, as Washington's man in Baku might potentially put a wrinkle in Obama's efforts to "reset" relations with Russia and send mixed signals about the kind of relationship he is trying to build.

But an associate close to Bryza says it is inaccurate that Moscow would perceive him as hostile or too close to Tbilisi, and noted that Bryza has strong and positive relationships with Russian officials. Bryza has a strong record in pressing the Georgian government hard not to even think about using force, the associate said on condition of anonymity. 

Bryza, a career Foreign Service officer who previously served at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, was an NSC director on Europe during Bush's first term, and served as the deputy to Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Daniel Fried during Bush's second term. The two Washington Russia hands said they were told that Fried, now the U.S. ambassador at large on Guantánamo detainee issues, was recommending Bryza for the Baku envoy appointment, and had recently raised the matter with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Fried and Bryza declined to comment.

Clinton "makes her own decisions and not based on any single person's recommendation," an administration official said on condition of anonymity.

Bryza was seen as having gone "beyond what someone in his position would usually do" in showing support for Mikheil Saakashvili in the run-up and during the Georgian-Russian conflict last summer, a former senior Clinton administration official said. "Not so much by what he said," but with "frequent public demonstrations that he was" close to the Georgian president.

But Bryza was also representing the preferences of the administration he then served, the former official acknowledged. "A lot of people in the U.S. government have responsibility for the aggressiveness of Georgia last summer and the mistaken belief there that the U.S. was going to come to their support" more than it did, the former official said.

Among the concerns would be the potential scuttling of a Russian-proposed plan for U.S.-Russian cooperation on a radar site in Azerbaijan, the former official said. Azerbaijan carefully modulates its behavior toward Moscow, tilting toward the West while taking care not to provoke Russian ire.

"He is very close to the Georgians, even for our administration," a former Bush administration foreign-policy hand said of Bryza. "It wouldn't surprise me if he was paying a price now for his service during the Bush administration."

It would be a mistake to pick officials based on whether it pleases Moscow, the current administration official countered. "We should not make choices about ambassadors to third countries based principally on Russian sensitivities," he said, on condition of anonymity. "They don't own their former empire. We don't conduct our relations with Baku through Moscow. We have to work with Russia and understand their concerns. But to understand is not to give them veto power over other countries or [over] our relations with other countries."

Sources worried about Moscow's opinions on the Baku appointment, he continued, "obviously don't understand what Obama is trying to do with Russia. There is no Russian sphere of influence that we will recognize."

In other former East bloc appointments, current U.S. ambassador to Georgia John Tefft is in the mix for U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. And the U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, Nancy McEldowney, is going to be named principal deputy assistant secretary to Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon. Both career FSOs are very well regarded, the former Clinton administration official said.


The Cable

Obama on the Iranian elections

Praising tobacco control legislation in the Rose Garden today, President Barack Obama took a final question about the Iranian elections. From the pool report filed by Hearst's Chuck Lewis:

"We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran and obviously, after the speech that I made in Cairo, we tried to send a clear message that we think there's a possibility of change. And ultimately, the election is for the Iranians to decide. But just as what has been true in Lebanon, what can be true in Iran as well, is that you're seeing people looking at new possiblities. And whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways.''

UPDATE: At 4pm EST, both the Mousavi and Ahmadinejad camps are declaring victory. With Iranian state news agency IRNA declaring Ahmadinejad the victor, "this is going to get dirty," says the National Iranian American Council's Trita Parsi. Official results are not expected until Saturday.

Update II: As of 1am Tehran time, a U.S.-based Iranian academic reading Iranian coverage of the returns notes: "In less than one hour, the officials in Iran have counted 35% of the voting places in Iran. The news is that Ahmadinejad has received 68%, Mousavi 28% and others are distant 3rd, and 4th. Amazing speed according to previous election!

"In the last election, the initial patterns did not hold up. It is strange that the officials had said that they would not announce any results until 4 AM, but they made the first announcement at about 1 AM.  It is FAR from over though. THIS was according to IRINN (Iranian CNN in Persian). Stay tuned."

Update III: As of 1:48am Tehran time, he adds, "Of 47.3% voting booths (15 million votes):

AN 67%
Rezaie 1.7%
Karoubi .87%
Mousavi 30%

"IRINN is the source and it may change... Mousavi people are gearing up
to contest it as they already have declared victory. This could
change though..."  

Update IV: Results as of 2:47 AM Tehran time: "More than 21 million votes counted (61% of all voting booths)

Ahmadinejad 66.28%
Mousavi 31.6%
Rezaie 1.87%
Karoubi .9%

"One of Mousavi's spokespersons, Saeed Shariati, just told BBC Persian that the results announced so far only reflect the present administration's views. These results are either the results of cheating or are psychological warfare mounted by this administration against Mousavi. He said he hopes this is only their way of spoiling the sweet moment of victory for Mousavi and at the end of the day we have a clear victor, who is Mr. Mousavi.

"Ahmadinejad's headquarter has declared victory, even though about 40% of the votes have not been counted, according to his own Interior

"This is getting interesting, to say the least."

Another source says that Rafsanjani and Mousavi apparently held a meeting with Khamenei.

Update V: At about 7:30am Tehran time, the U.S.-based Iranian academic writes, "I have been exchanging emails, phone calls, and been in touch with
young, old, men, women, ...and been in touch with people from inside
each campaign (AN and Mousavi). These numbers have surprised even the
supporters  of AN. What is more, the journalists are saying in the
Interior Ministry there has been no explanations, no interviews, just
reading the numbers to journalists. It is mind-boggling at this point.
It is not over by any means; unless reformers want to lay down and
play dead."

He later adds, "The loser either way is Khamenie (if there is a widespread belief that this was rigged). However, I cannot believe given the scope of participation that it would be such a blow out (even as the percentage of booths has nothing to do with the percentage of the vote give because the size of these booths are not the same). However, no one I know can believe these numbers. Something does not add up."

Another Washington-based Iran watcher said at about 11pm EST that Iranian-state-officials are claiming vote counts in the Iranian city of Isfahan show Ahmadinejad winning 3-1. Which would seem a bit absurd - or else a total contrary result from what pre-election reporting indicated. He said there seems to be a waiting for two things: what Mousavi says, and what Rafsanjani says.