Colombo, July 12, 2016: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski who are currently visiting Sri Lanka met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera on July 12th 2016.
The meeting was followed by remarks to the media by Minister Samaraweera and Assistant Secretaries Biswal and Malinowski.
Minister Mangala Samaraweera:
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to welcome Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski to Sri Lanka and to this Ministry, once again.
I am sure that by now, both Nisha and Tom are quite familiar to all of you.
As you all know, since the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Sri Lanka last year, and the series of steps taken by the Government, with the support of the people, to uphold, promote and protect fundamental freedoms, strengthen democracy, good governance, justice and the rule of law, our two countries have managed to elevate the traditionally friendly Sri Lanka-US relationship to a historic high, in a matter of little over one-and-a-half years. It is in a sense, a new beginning for both countries; and we are now engaged in building this relationship as natural partners.
We have seen a series of visits from the United States since January last year. This included the Cabinet-level visits of Secretary of State John Kerry, and Ambassador Samantha Power. These high-level visits, combined with the hard work of Assistant Secretary Biswal and Assistant Secretary Malinowski, and others including our respective Ambassadors in the United States and in Sri Lanka, we have succeeded in consolidating relations between our two countries.
It was the result of all this hard work that saw our two countries set up a ‘Partnership Dialogue’ between the United States and Sri Lanka, which met for the first time in Washington DC in February this year.
At our meeting today, we discussed a range of issues of bilateral importance including economic cooperation; governance, development cooperation, people-to-people ties; and security cooperation. We also discussed matters pertaining to reconciliation in Sri Lanka; as well as international and regional issues and events that impact on our countries. Apart from discussing ways of making our partnership stronger, including enhancing bilateral trade and investment, we also discussed about enhancing maritime cooperation and Sri Lanka’s participation in the ‘Our Oceans’ Conference aimed at preservation of Oceans, to be held in September, in Washington DC.
We also discussed the importance of providing an economic peace dividend for the people of Sri Lanka as we progress in the process of reconciliation; and I emphasized the interconnected nature of reconciliation and development, and the resources required for the success of both.
During their current visit, the two Assistant Secretaries will call on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe tomorrow at Temple Trees. They will also meet the Leader of Opposition; Senior Parliamentarians and Ministers; and the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence and the Commanders of the tri-forces. They will also travel to Trincomalee on the 14th where there will meet the Governor and Chief Minister of the Eastern Province; and of course visit the historic Konneswaram Temple; and several other project sites.
I look forward to continue our engagement with the United States, especially through the ‘Partnership Dialogue’, to take our relationship to even greater heights and I wish both, Nisha and Tom and the delegation a very pleasant stay in Sri Lanka. And now I would like to invite Nisha to say a few words.
Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal:
Thank you Mr. Minister for the very warm and gracious welcome, and also for the very productive meeting that we’ve had today. This visit and this meeting builds on a tremendous trajectory of partnership between our two countries and enumerated some of the key touch points of that relationship, including last year’s visit by Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Samantha Power, and the Partnership Dialogue we inaugurated in February this year.
Sri Lanka itself has been on a remarkable trajectory of addressing not only the internal issues that have challenged it, but also engaging with the broader international community in a spirit of partnership and dialogue. The United States has welcomed a deepening of ties between our two countries. The United States and Sri Lanka share common goals as fellow democracies, which are both working to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. We are partners, and today our relations are at an all-time high.
We have been proud to partner with Sri Lanka over the past 60 years, during which development and humanitarian assistance has improved countless lives, livelihoods, and living conditions all across Sri Lanka. We will continue to make substantial investments in multiple sectors — agriculture, enterprise development, education, health care, energy and natural resources, and humanitarian activities. As the Government of Sri Lanka moves ahead with its plans for constitutional reform, for justice and reconciliation, the United States will continue to partner with the government to foster economic development and encourage foreign investment, to work to advance opportunities for all Sri Lankans.
We continue to support the Government of Sri Lanka as it takes meaningful and concrete steps in response to concerns of its people related to democratic governance and advancing respect for human rights, for reconciliation, for justice and accountability. We can envision a future which brings benefits to both countries, and to peace and prosperity and security across the Indian Ocean as Sri Lanka assumes a greater role as a key partner in this region. As Sri Lanka assumes its great potential as a hub and a gateway to connect to a rising economic societies of South and Southeast Asia.
Much work remains, but the United States is committed to partnering with the Sri Lankan people to address challenges and help this country and its people to realise their true potential.
Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski:
Minister (Samaraweera), I want to thank you for all the work you have done for our relationship, which is better than it has ever been before. I want to say just how much we respect and appreciate the work you have done to help restore and strengthen Sri Lanka’s international position. Sri Lanka’s diplomatic success in the last year and a half has happened in good measure because of your integrity and because of the weight that your word carries in the international community. That is a very tangible benefit to this country.
In the last few months, and in particular the last several weeks, we have seen Sri Lanka take very concrete steps forward in its reform, democratization, and reconciliation agenda: the bill to establish an Office of Missing Persons, ratifying the convention on disappearances, additional land releases by the military, the President’s very important directive on arrests under the PTA, progress in work on the constitution. A lot of this work was foreshadowed in last year’s Human Rights Council resolution. That resolution embodied commitments the Sri Lanka people have made in their own national interests to restore accountability and the rule of law to their country. The United States was a co-sponsor of that resolution, and as such we feel we have a shared responsibility to help see this process through. So we look forward to supporting Sri Lanka as it puts into place the remaining institutions and reforms that the resolution endorsed. We very strongly commend the government for working closely with United Nations and High Commissioner Zeid to advance that progress.
I also want to strongly second my colleague Assistant Secretary Biswal’s comments on economic development and on the opportunity and responsibility we have as a partner of Sri Lanka to help the people of this country achieve the peace dividend that they so deserve. I want to stress that in our minds these two objectives — economic development and reconciliation — go hand-in-hand. Without a peace dividend, it will be harder to pursue reconciliation.
But reconciliation is also advanced, as we have seen in country after country in the world, where people can come together rather than let themselves be split apart. In a larger sense, this reminds us why what is happening in Sri Lanka is so important to people all over the world, because if you look at what’s happening in the world today, there’s obviously not a lot of good news to be found. A lot of the problems that we see are rooted in something that Sri Lanka knows all too well — this contest between the politics of division and the politics of common ground. We’ve seen, unfortunately, in many places around the world that it is easier to win in politics by making simple appeals to racial, religious, or national pride, than by doing the hard work of governing. Easier sometimes to blame others for our problems than to take responsibility ourselves. In that way you can distract people from your own failures and lack of vision.
I think the people Sri Lanka have shown us again and again, that regardless where they come from, or what language they speak, or what faith they belong to, everyone has the same fundamental interests. Everybody has an interest in peace, everyone has an interest in law and order, in accountability, in moving this country forward. The people of Sri Lanka chose a government that seeks to serve all its people rather than setting them against each other. For that reason, the whole world needs Sri Lanka to succeed and to show others the way. We are proud to be your partner in that effort.
Thank you very much.