Ambassador Kariyawasam clarifies the State of Play in USA-Lanka Relations: Q and A with Manjula

Manjula Fernando in Washington,  in the Sunday Observer, 21 March 2016, where the title is “US-Sri Lanka ties at an all-time high – Prasad Kariyawasam” … with highlighting emphases inserted by the Editor, thuppahi.

Sri Lanka’s envoy to the US, Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam says re-invigorated US-Sri Lanka ties has resulted in both countries endorsing an institutional framework to guide future cooperation. “The US is already Sri Lanka’s biggest customer absorbing 23% of our exports. The potential for further expansion is tremendous,” he said. Ambassador Kariyawasam said ending the culture of impunity and true commitment for accountability in all aspects of governance earned Sri Lanka its rightful place on the world map. He said Sri Lanka is currently looking at greater military cooperation with the US in addition to trade ties. We met Ambassador Kariyawasam in Washington recently for a brief interview.

PRASAD K Prasad Kariyawasam

Excerpts…

Q: A couple of years ago Sri Lanka-US relations were at an all-time low. How do you describe bi-lateral relations between the two countries today?

A: Sri Lanka and the US have always had good relations based on common value systems including democracy. This is apparent if you look at the history of our relations between the two countries. However, due to certain positions adopted in the recent past, we failed to work towards enhancing or building this relationship.

Since January 2015, after the election of the new government, we began to reinvigorate and revive relations. This was based on steps taken to strengthen democracy, good governance through initiatives such as the 19th Amendment, rule of law, justice, and accountability in all aspects including the human rights front. The policies of the Government which focus on the achievement of such objectives has created space for the two countries to work closely in all areas of common interest.

Supportive measures: As a result, the US Secretary of State John Kerry made an official visit to Sri Lanka in May 2015. This official visit by a US Secretary of State took place after 43 years. It was a landmark visit. During his visit Secretary Kerry said Sri Lanka and the US will establish a regular Partnership Dialogue.  Many high-level US personalities have also embarked on goodwill and working visits to Sri Lanka regularly after January 2015 and there is an apparent quantum leap in our bi-lateral relations.

Q: Any new joint action being proposed in the bi-lateral front to reflect this renewed goodwill?

A: We just concluded the first meeting of the US-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue in February 2016 during the second official visit of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to the US. The joint statement issued at the conclusion of this comprehensive dialogue is a manifestation of the cooperation between our two countries. The joint statement is a substantive common platform on which to build our partnership, encompassing cooperation in all areas of mutual interest. This is an important milestone in relations between Sri Lanka and the US.

There have been several other initiatives and developments during the last year. For instance, Secretary John Kerry, during his visit to Sri Lanka announced a series of supportive measures including the immediate extension of US $ 40 million for economic growth-related projects. In January this year, the Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC), which provides grant assistance, selected Sri Lanka for their program portfolio and this assistance can reach several hundred millions of dollars in the future, to come under an expanded program.

Among other proposals now under consideration, is an initiative by the office of the US Trade Representative to unveil an action plan to promote investment and trade with Sri Lanka.This has great promise to boost trade further and access for Sri Lankan products to the US market and for economic development in Sri Lanka. The US is already Sri Lanka’s biggest customer, absorbing 23% of our exports. This is a fact that most Sri Lankans do not seem to know. The potential for further expansion is tremendous.

There also exists many new opportunities for training of professionals in all spheres including the security sector and new initiatives for people-to-people contact which are also being planned. Prospects for greater military cooperation, in particular navy- to-navy engagements, are increasing by the day.

Q: The renewed relations had a bearing on the recent developments in Geneva regarding Sri Lanka?

A: As you are aware, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, action in the UN Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation was led by the US. This was mainly in the light of the lack of action to investigate a series of alleged human rights violations, as well as governance and rule of law issues including the passage of the 18th Amendment, restrictions of some rights and freedom of the public and the media.

The new government under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, ushered in a new era focusing on promotion and protection of human rights of all citizens. The government has shown progress in reconciliation – taking decisions through engagement and consultation and working with civil society. It has upheld the freedom of expression, movement and media while ending a culture of impunity. Dialogue is an important feature of government policy. Therefore, it was natural for the new government to address alleged human rights violations and start taking steps to strengthen, promote and protect human rights of all Sri Lankans.

Human rights issues: One step was to work in engagement with the US, other countries of the UN and human rights mechanisms including Special Procedure Mandate Holders. This is important as the government envisions Sri Lanka’s long-term progress as a strong democracy, positioning itself as an important trading and shipping hub in the Indian Ocean to reap full economic potential for the people of our country.

As a result of all these commitments, the theatre of action on Sri Lanka on this account has now shifted from Geneva to Sri Lanka. Accordingly, authorities in Sri Lanka will work locally, while seeking expertise and assistance from the international community where necessary, to address all outstanding human rights issues that concern our people.

As you know, the High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Sri Lanka in February this year, and at the conclusion of his successful visit, he held a detailed press conference, where he responded to questions and said very clearly that it is the ‘sovereign right of the country concerned to decide on what is best’. And, it is important in terms of Sri Lanka’s quest for reconciliation and achieving durable peace and progress to take into consideration the concerns of all stakeholders including the victims on all sides.

Q: The US will elect a new President in November and the new President will be inaugurated in January 2017. It was only a few months ago we ironed out our differences with the Obama administration. How will the change of face in the White House affect Sri Lanka – US relations?

A: Sri Lanka is ready to work with whoever is elected by the American people, to further bilateral relations. At the moment both nations have laid the ground work for a special relationship. Most importantly, an institutional framework is now in place for this purpose. The US is a robust democracy with sound institutions and a change of government, resulting in a reversal of policy with regard to bilateral relations between the US and Sri Lanka is unlikely.

Q: As of now the two front-runners in the US election race are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Sri Lanka had smooth relations with the US during Bill Clinton’s administration. Do you think we have to start all over again when the new President assumes office?

A: Though there will be a new person occupying the Oval office by 2017, this does not mean that everything will start from square one in terms of bi-lateral relations with the US, and I don’t envisage impediments on taking our relations with the US to new heights as a result of a change in the leadership.

Q: Donald Trump is seen as a hardliner on many issues including the immigrants issue. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is no stranger to Sri Lanka. Who would be the best leader as far as Sri Lanka is concerned?

A: I do not wish to pre-empt outcomes or policies. It is only when a person is elected to office that his or her policies on relations with other countries will become apparent. Sri Lanka’s leaders will work with the new leader of the US accordingly, in the best interests of both nations with due respect to the democratic choice of the people of the United States of America.

*** ***

ALSO SEE

Gerald H. Peiris: “The Doctrine of Responsibility to Protect: Impulses, Implications and Impact,” 30 June 2010, http://www.slguardian.org/2010/06/the-doctrine-of-responsibility-to-protect-impulses-implications-and-impact/ AND https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/from%3A(geraldpeiris%40yahoo.com)+OR+to%3A(geraldpeiris%40yahoo.com)/1510fc7141751033?projector=1

Michael Roberts:Lilliputs in a World of Giants: Marga and CHA bat for Lanka in the Propaganda War, 2009-14,” 18 November 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/lilliputs-in-a-world-of-giants-marga-and-cha-bat-for-lanka-in-the-propaganda-war-2009-14/#more-18467

Jeevan Thiagarajah: “Marga/CHA in Advocacy with BRIC Nations at Geneva, September 2014,” 19 November 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/margacha-in-advocacy-with-bric-nations-at-geneva-september-2014/#more-18498

“Marga & CHA Press Their Views in the Washington Den,” via Jeevan Thiagarajah: “Memo on Visit to Washington, 16-23rd October 2014: Resetting the Discourse on Post-War Issues of Accountability,” 19 November 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=18505&action=edit&postpost=v2

Reseau Voltaire: Mind-Blowing Revelations about US-UN Machinations: von Sponeck in Q and A with Silvia Cattori in 2007,” 12 February 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/mind-blowing-revelations-about-us-un-machinations-von-sponeck-in-q-and-a-with-silvia-cattori-in-2007/

Christopher Black: “USA’s Military Build-Up in Europe; frightening Precursors,” 18 February 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/usas-military-build-up-in-europe-frightening-precursors/#more-19747

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