9th November 1997


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No strings on LTTE ban, says US

The mandarins of American diplomacy no longer seem to look down on
South Asia as a backwater in the shaping and pursuit of US foreign policy.
From Karl F. Inderfuth, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, to
Shaun Donnelly, the U.S. Ambassador designate to Sri Lanka and the Maldives
whose posting was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday, Washington is now
broadcasting a doctrine of "greater engagement" in the region.
In the second of two interviews in Colombo, Anne V. Barbaro, Director of
the U.S.Information Service and spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy, reiterates
the American stance on the on-going civil war and other issues, and charts Sri
Lanka's place on the superpower's new strategic map of the region:
By Imran Vittachi

Q. What is the U.S. government's overall position on the conflict in Sri Lanka?

A: The United States continues to support a negotiated political settlement to the conflict in Sri Lanka. We believe the Sri Lankan government's wide-ranging proposals for constitutional reform constitute a solid basis for a peaceful solution to this tragic conflict.

Q: Does the U.S. maintain contact with the LTTE? Was the LTTE warned of the dangers of being designated as a terrorist organization?

A: The U.S. government has long urged the LTTE, in public statements and through intermediaries, to cease all acts of terrorism, and particularly those against civilian targets.

We have consistently made clear that we will take strong action against terrorist organizations that threaten our national interests.

The provisions of our Anti-Terrorism legislation have been in the public domain since it was enacted in April 1996.

Q:What must the LTTE do to have its designation as a terrorist organization changed?

A: The Secretary of State may revoke a designation if he or she finds that the circumstances that were the basis for designation under the legislation have changed as to warrant revocation.

Q: Washington's declaration came only hours before Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was to fly back to Colombo, despite his lobbying Madeleine Albright for weeks, in apparent vein, to add the LTTE to its gallery of foreign terror groups. Why the last-minute shift in policy? Might Washington have attached strings to its blacklisting of the LTTE that would serve American interests, such as demanding Colombo to climb down on the Evans International commercial dispute, or to greenlight Freeport-McMoran's $450mn bid to mine for rock phosphate in Sri Lanka?

A:What shift in policy? The designation list which came out on October 8 was the first list published under the 1996 Act, and included 29 other international organizations besides the LTTE. Remember, the U.S. law is meant to meet American interests in the United States for the benefit of the citizens of the United States.

Bilateral relations are not a part of the designation equation, as a review of the 30 designated foreign terrorist organizations will reveal.

There is absolutely no tie to commercial issues, and none was proposed by the United States since, after all, designation was an internal issue. As evidence of this, we note that there are a number of commercial disputes still pending between U.S. firms and the Government of Sri Lanka.

Q: Recent reports have painted a bleak picture of Washington's relations with Colombo, specifically where American investments are concerned. How accurate is this cynicism from the local press? Or are U.S.-Lanka relations so sound that there are no areas for improvement?

A:The U.S. is Sri Lanka's largest trading partner and potentially Sri Lanka's largest source of the capital essential for continued development.

Some commercial disputes are to be expected under such circumstances; both Sri Lanka and the U.S. are working, with good will, to address these disputes.

Q:A local newspaper, in recent probes on the state of U.S.-Lankan relations, has said that in a circular to U.S. embassies and consulates across the region, former ambassador Burleigh stated his misgivings about investing in Sri Lanka. Can you confirm this?

If so, did he go through State Department channels? In other words, did State authorize that cable, or did Burleigh act at his own discretion?

A:Every country's embassies have obligations to advise their citizens of the business and investment climates in the receiving states. If there are irregularities or systemic problems or potential problems, the embassy is under obligation to report the facts.

Q:Is the U.S. actually going to scale back aid to Sri Lanka by as much as 60 percent? What is the prognosis where USAID is concerned, from now until 2000? Why are these cuts being effected?

A: Since 1953, the U.S. Government has provided more than $1.6 billion in development assistance and food aid to Sri Lanka. Annual funding levels have been about $12-18 million in development assistance. The U.S. considers Sri Lanka to be a strong development partner. Sri Lanka has made such outstanding progress in many areas affecting the quality of life of Sri Lankans, including child survival, basic education, and family planning, that Sri Lanka is often held out as a model for other countries. The United States is pleased to have helped provide support for many of these highly successful programs.

The U.S. plans to continue its USAID program in Sri Lanka with a primary focus on economic growth. Additional activities will continue in the areas of strengthening democratic institutions, human rights, and humanitarian activities, including support for war victims, children affected by the conflict, and HIV/AIDS awareness. U.S. funding for these activities is about $4.5 million in new money for fiscal year 1997. All these activities fall within the USAID's current five-year strategic planning framework approved for the period 1995-2000.

Q. Your government, as you have said, backs the so-called package, but what role does the United States see for itself in a Sri Lanka where power is devolved away from the centre? What does the U.S. hope to achieve here in the short, medium, and long-terms?

A: One correction: The U.S. does not necessarily, nor should it as a matter of international relations, "back the package" in all of its dynamic complexity and detail; it is solely for the people of Sri Lanka to determine what changes and reforms are necessary and desirable.

What we've said, and what we firmly believe, is that the proposals to devolve political power are the most forward-leaning proposals to date to address the underlying political issues of the conflict and are supported by the U.S. Government as an excellent basis for constructive dialogue and eventual resolution.

Over the coming years, in the context of our bilateral relationship, the U.S. hopes to see resolution of the conflict in a manner which preserves democratic ideals, continued growth in broad-based economic prosperity, and protection of the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Sri Lanka.

These objectives are based on a perspective that prosperous democratic countries are our best friends, least likely adversaries, and best trading partners.

Q: The U.S. is now the sole superpower left in a multi-polar world. As we approach the next millennium, what place will little Lanka have in America's pursuit of its geopolitical designs, in the face of competition from emerging powers like Beijing and New Delhi? Could the Port of Trincomalee, for instance, strategically pointing to China, India, the Gulf States and the Middle East become the next Diego Garcia?

A: President Clinton has been quite explicit in defining U.S. strategic interests in the region. As noted in last May's "National Security Strategy for a New Century", our strategy is focused on helping the peoples of this region enjoy the fruits of democracy and greater stability by helping resolve long-standing conflicts and implementing confidence building measures.

The question about Trinco possibly reflects, in part, a preoccupation with discredited concepts of old-fashioned power politics; there is no U.S. interest, nor any need for an interest, in Trinco becoming "the next Diego Garcia."

War on words in the Israeli conflict

Fundamentalist, a word that the Western media reserves for Muslims, is hardly ever used to describe the “extremist” views of Christians, Jews, Buddhists or Hindus. The distinction is most striking in the news coverage of the Middle-East in general, and the Palestinian problem in particular, that is the 50 year old Arab-Israeli conflict.

How will the attitude of an influential mass communications media affect the important Middle-East Economic Summit which opens on November 16. It will be hosted by Qatar, the small oil-rich state, a neighbour of Saudi Arabia, the wealthiest in the area. For the last three years it has brought Arab and Israeli business elites together, observes Thomas Friedman, of the New York Times. (One of the most influential newspapers in America, NYK Times is owned by a Jewish American family). The U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, will be in Qatar.

Arab differences rather than Arab unity may be displayed at the Qatar meeting. The Saudis would love to see the summit blow up in Qatar’s face but this could embarrass the United States, argues the NYK Times.

The Saudis have already embarrassed poor Qatar by announcing that it will be represented by its third deputy assistant undersecretary for “Waste Management.” As for Bahrainis they are the only ones smaller than Qatar, which suits Saudi royalty fine.

Jordan will come if only to spite Syria. But don’t seat the Jordanians next to the Israelis. The poor Saudis, the wealthiest but the most nervous. During the Gulf War, its vulnerability was exposed to the world, but most of all, to envious Arab neighbours.

And all this, the clearest picture of Arab disunity, explains why Arab and Islamic leaders and opinion-makers watch the divisive forces which now emerge in Israeli society and politics.

Orthodox Jews

In a deepening rift between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American Jewry, the Prime Minister’s senior aide, accused “Reform and Conservative Jews” of using a dispute over religion to topple the government, reported A.P., the American news agency. However the leading Conservative rabbi in Israel dismissed the charge as “paranoid”. Mr.Netanyahu’s spokesman may well be right on this particular occasion but there can be little doubt that the composition of Netanyahu’s coalition has made his government vulnerable to small, well-knit, ideologically clear groups and parties which realise that Mr. Netanyahu cannot always be sure of a majority in the 120 member Knesset. The “orthodox’ (fundamentalist?) could be joined by the new parties launched by the immigrants from the “old” Soviet Union.

Orthodox rabbis run religious affairs in Israel. The new “citizens” from Russia and the Soviet bloc countries like Poland are guided by “Orthodox” rabbi. Trapped by a national political controversy not of his making or seeking, Prime Minister Netanyahu did strive to settle the dispute through discussion and negotiation. But the passions involved proved too strong for his “reasonable” formula for compromise. The split between Orthodox Jews and the more liberal wings of Judaism is one of the most serious religious disputes since the founding of the Jewish state wrote British corespondent Judy Dempsey in a report from Jerusalem. What is the basic question? Orthodox control over conversions . And the political implications? If the “orthodox” groups in the Knesset, are receptive to the arguments of the conservative rabbis.

The political implications of this crisis are plain enough. Prime Minister Netanyahu and the rightwing LIKUD (one of the two parties that shared power in post-independence Israel, 1948, with LABOUR) rely far too much on a motley alliance which includes three Orthodox parties. Are these parties, groups and individuals, determined to legitimize this situation in terms of effective power i.e. posts, including some key portfolios. Back to the wall, Netanyahu, an intellectual of the established anti-Arab Right, warned that he would support laws which “formalize” the Orthodox monopoly. Is the so-called Reform and Conservative movement linked secretly to factions of the Parliamentary opposition? “Paranoid and untrue”, rabbi Ehud Bandel keeps repeating.

All that disturbed him was that the Conservative movement in Israel was, in effect, forcing “a conflict of the government on one side and World Jewry on the other.”

By his words and gestures, Prime Minister Netanyahu may have protected his exposed flank - exposed to what we may call “Jewish fundamentalist” in the same manner that Muslim zealots, movements and even States (IRAN, of course) are branded. If so, the risks involved are large.

Israel was the first state created by the United Nations in reality by a U.S. dominated U.N in 1948. Though the power of the Jewish lobby in the U.S may have declined, there is no important American politician who does not make a special effort NOT to alienate the Jewish voter and pro-Israel organisations.

In the latest effort to halt the tide of Zionist extremism, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed his finance minister Yaakov Neeman, an Orthodox Jew as chairman of a Committee which has pleaded with the Reform and Conservative movements NOT to petition the High Court. He has also the opposition and other “ultras” to refrain “from pushing a Conversion bill”.

The Institute, styled a Conversion Institute, will be run by the three streams of Judaism. But the Opposition has promptly appealed to the Courts to suspend decision until all points of view are presented in court.The “war” (a long-standing internal or civil war) against the PLO goes on. The PLO under Chairman Arafat has fought for an independent Palestine for five decades.... with no success.

And that accounts for the rise of new movements like HAMAS, often called “fundamentalist” of the Islamic. The young man who assasinated war-hero President Rabin was found to be a member of a secret cell...of Jewish extremists... or fundamentalists.

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