Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
It has been an honor and a privilege to welcome Ambassador Thomas Shannon, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs- designate, to Sri Lanka, this evening.
As all of you may know, Ambassador Shannon is the senior-most career United States Foreign Service Officer, and just the 14th in history to rise to the role of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
As far as US – Sri Lanka relations are concerned, this has been what can be termed a ‘milestone year’.
- Ambassador Shannon’s visit follows a series of important visits from the US, since January of this year.
- Just a few days following the Presidential Election on the 8th of January, as you may recall, Assistant Secretary of State Ms. Nisha Biswal visited Sri Lanka. In fact, her visit set the tone for the renewal of the long standing relationship between the United States of America and Sri Lanka.
- This visit was followed by the visit of the US Secretary of State, Hon. John Kerry in May this year, the first official visit by a Secretary of State to Sri Lanka in 43 years.
- The visit of Assistant Secretaries of State Tom Malinowski and Nisha Biswal in August, soon after the Parliamentary Election and the visit by Ambassador Samantha Power just last month, the second Cabinet-level visit from the United States in a matter of 9 months since the Presidential Election, helped consolidate our relationship.
I think it would be appropriate to say that Ambassador Shannon’s visit, combined with all the important visits that preceded, indicates the level of excellence that relations between our two countries have now reached.
I am confident that the deliberations during this visit will not only add to the strengthening of relations between our two countries but also give direction to the partnership between our respective Foreign Policy implementing agencies, namely, the US Department of State and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka.
Ambassador Shannon’s visit and the nature of support that the US is willing to provide to Sri Lanka is most encouraging as we proceed on the journey that we began on the 8th of January to make our country a truly peaceful, reconciled, prosperous nation which abides by the best democratic traditions; promoting and protecting the human rights of each of our citizens and celebrating the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual nature of our society.
In our meeting this evening, we discussed a series of areas where we could work together to ensure that the people of our country benefit from the changes that are taking place in Sri Lanka and from the peace dividend. We discussed ways of making our partnership stronger, including enhancing bilateral trade and investment; and maritime cooperation including Sri Lanka’s participation in the ‘Our Oceans’ Conference.
Most importantly, we discussed the contours of the ‘US-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue’. As you would recall, Secretary Kerry, during his visit in May this year, announced that the US and Sri Lanka will establish a Partnership Dialogue. As the senior-most official at the Department of State, Ambassador Shannon will guide this important Partnership Dialogue. Today we discussed and decided on the key areas on which this Dialogue will be based, namely,
- Governance, Development Cooperation and People-to-People ties;
- Economic Cooperation;
- Security Cooperation; and
- International and Regional Affairs.
These four areas were decided upon after discussion with both President and Prime Minister during the last few months, in the context of ways and means of developing the US-Sri Lanka relationship in line with the reform agenda of the Government and the requirements of the people of our country.
Ambassador Shannon and I also decided at our meeting today that the Partnership Dialogue will be launched in Washington DC in February of next year.
As I mentioned before, Ambassador Shannon arrived in Sri Lanka today. This meeting at the Foreign Affairs Ministry was his first since his arrival this evening. Tomorrow, he will travel to the Eastern Province. On Wednesday, he will call on the President and the Prime Minister. He has also undertaken a speaking engagement at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute on the same day.
I am also grateful to Ambassador Shannon for undertaking this visit. I look forward to staying engaged with him, and to work closely with him to further enhance US – Sri Lanka relations along the positive trajectory on which Secretary Kerry placed our relations during his visit in May this year.
At this point, I would also like to convey my appreciation to Ambassador Atul Keshap and his team in Colombo for all the tireless work that they do to make the bonds between our two countries grow stronger with each passing day.
I wish Ambassador Shannon and his team a very pleasant stay in Sri Lanka and now I would like to invite Ambassador Shannon to say a few words to you.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
14th December 2015