More gloom than glory in New York visit

By Our Diplomatic Editor

Sri Lanka did not cover itself with political glory during the UN summit last week. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's reception at the Empire Room of the Waldorf Astoria did not attract any prominent world leaders -- with the exception of Cyprus, Fiji and the Maldives raising serious doubts over the efficacy of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Contrary to earlier reports, it was Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki who had attended and not President Mahmoud Ahamedinejad. It was only last week, the Sunday Times revealed that the Ministry sent out circulars to heads of Sri Lanka missions abroad in August telling them to arrange for the heads of state of the countries they are posted to meet President Rajapaksa at the UN. The Ministry had not pursued any follow-up action and such meetings became few.

The External Affairs Ministry has also come in for criticism over the reception held at the Empire Room of the Waldorf Astoria. President Rajapaksa last week drew strong criticisms primarily because of its selective invitation list. The list excluded, wittingly or unwittingly, some of the most senior Sri Lanka expatriates, including physicians, engineers, accountants and a whole range of professionals, who have been living in the United States for 25 to 30 years.

The reception was co-sponsored by the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington and the Sri Lanka Mission to the United Nations. As one expat observed the lapse was unforgivable particularly at a time when the government is trying to reach out to them to help in the reconstruction of the country, promote tourism and foreign investment. The invitees, more than 300, included scores of expatriates who were new arrivals to the country.

There was also disappointment among senior Sri Lankan expatriates over a large number of empty seats at the UN General Assembly when President Rajapaksa spoke. They said that the External Affairs Ministry should have carried out a vigorous drive to ensure delegates from other countries were present when he spoke.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh skipped both the UN summit and the General Assembly sessions this year. There were no jumbo delegations or luxury stretch limousines for Indian delegates either.

Still Manmohan Singh picked up the 2010 'World Statesman Award' in absentia. This was given by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an inter-faith coalition of business, religious and foreign policy leaders. Additionally, India, along with Brazil and South Africa (a triumvirate called IBSA) picked up the 2010 Millennium Development Goals award for South-South cooperation at a glittering ceremony at the same Waldorf Astoria, where the Sri Lanka delegation was holed up.

Paying a tribute to the Indian premier, former U.S. Under Secretary of State William Burns said: "There could truly be no better choice, and no better model of what integrity and statesmanship are all about on the world stage.

India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was one of the few Foreign Ministers to be invited to President Barack Obama's reception for heads of state: an indication of India's political clout in the international arena.

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