By K Godage


PM's visit to the US generates goodwill
I wondered as to whether the PM's recent visit to the US would be a repeat of what went before when much was expected but little realized. I speculated as to whether the visit would result in tangible benefits to Lanka. From the information that is now available it is now evident that the PM has indeed done us proud. He has exceeded all expectations. Obtaining an appointment itself could not have been easy because the President's schedule is invariably full and planned months in advance, with allowance being made for crisis situations. Furthermore the PM is not the executive head of government. This visit would no doubt have come about because of Minister Moragoda's influence in Washington and also due to the indefatigable efforts of the US Ambassador Ashley Wills,

There are certain measurements by which we judge the success or failure of any visit whether it be a State visit, an official visit or a 'working visit', which this was, in the immediate aftermath of one. As a recent editorial in another newspaper pointed out, "we must translate the assurances into reality" and that would be over a period of time but we can nevertheless say at this point of time whether the visit was productive, unproductive or even counter-productive.

What were the PM's aims as indicated by him/? They were in the first instance to strengthen the relationship between our two countries. This was the first visit by a Lankan leader in 18 years and we have had no visits from American leaders to this country either. That certainly says it all on the state of our relations. High on the PM's priorities would no doubt have been the strengthening of the country's security. Perhaps a unique feature of our approach to the peace process this time around has been the diplomatic offensive to line up the international community and particularly those countries that matter for the resolution of our problem, behind the government.

This the PM and Minister Moragoda have done most skillfully. They appear to have unfurled a security umbrella over the country. Never before has the LTTE faced such a situation.

The meetings with the Secretary of State Colin Powell at the State Department and the National Security Advisor Condolesa Rice, across from the Oval Office, would also have been most valuable. The geo-strategic situation on the sub-continent has changed with the emergence of regional nuclear powers. There is no doubt that US interests in oil rich Central Asia are affected. She has to formulate a new policy towards South Asia. And it is in this context that the US would need long term allies. The threat of Terrorism and the targeting of US interests world over, would also require a stronger US presence in the region. There could always be some convergence of interests. No doubt these factors would have been discussed.

On this visit the PM and Minister Moragoda may not have been able to wrap up the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) but they, from reports coming out of Washington, seem to have certainly laid the foundation for greater diplomatic and military support for the resolution of the problem. In fact it may not be necessary for us to have any formal agreement such as ACSA to either service the ships of the US Navy if they wish to call at our ports or if the need arises for us to acquire any weapons from the US. A formal agreement would of course have its advantages but not having one should not be a hindrance to securing the means for our country's defence. This time around the LTTE will not be able on any excuse to return to war without inflicting on itself grievous consequences. The PM has stated "The security net of international cooperation will protect the country". If the LTTE returns to war it may become obvious to the Tamil people in particular that a change of leadership in the LTTE, as recently suggested by Nirupama Subramanian, may be the only way to end the war. I must here refer to an important fact, namely that our 'very local' and insular bureaucrats and politicians do not understand the importance of close relations with the US. I recall that in 1996 I was instrumental in

bringing to Sri Lanka a military training organization from the UIS, one of the best in the world, the MPRI. Our MOD buffoons and the very insular politicians, and some steeped in anti-American prejudice, shot the initiative down. They also shot down a proposal to train our forces in Intelligence work and last but not least they shot down an offer for 'high resolution imaging", one man in the system wanted to know whether it was imagining! They did not appreciate the fact that had we an American organization, with the reputation of MPRI assisting us, all doors would have been open to us in Washington DC. Thousands have died because of the buffoonery of the MOD and our so called National Security Council. I do hope that if such an opportunity is afforded us after the visit of the PM we would grab it with alacrity and not say "we know more about training for our war than any American". There are many who are vested with decision making power in our governmental structure who have the attitude of the Gomarankadawela DRO, perhaps even he may be more enlightened.

The decision to send Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Lanka to make an assessment of the situation here is a significant one. It is also a signal to the LTTE, which is suspected of being involved in international terrorism. The visit of Mr. Armitage would also send a message to the political parties in the south that enough is enough and that the international community has suffered our "dirty war" for far too long. They demand that the political parties in the south reach a consensus to enable the achievement of a durable peace. A fact often forgotten is that the international community has not and will not give us a blank cheque. They are convinced that the rights of Tamil people must be conceded within a unitary state. They wish to see a fair and just solution, which would allow the Tamil people to live in peace with dignity, in security as equal citizens, deciding on their own destiny to the furthest possible extent consistent with the security of the other communities inhabiting this country. .

The PM has stated that besides security assistance development aid is to be increased. In this regard it would be of interest to recall that after the 1977 elections the US AID office in Colombo, which had a staff of perhaps fifteen till then, including Sri Lankans increased to exponentially, to over one hundred Americans. This was perhaps because the US has understandably been more comfortable with the UNP than with our Socialists. I have no doubt that the US aid Mission here would be strengthened in the months to come.

Another important achievement during this visit was the signing of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement between our two countries. It is indeed significant that the PM and Minister Moragoda had an unusually long meeting with the US Trade Representative Bob Zellick, the most important official in the US administration in charge of Trade and his Deputy. It was the first such meeting in a decade. The TIFA is a framework agreement, a mechanism which would, if properly exploited could lead us to a Free Trade Agreement. The TIFA could also herald the beginning of a new era of cooperation between Sri Lanka and the US in the WTO. (Incidentally I am reliably informed that the US is averse to discussing FTAs at the present time, that is until the Doha Round negotiations are completed ). The US is expected to send a high level team to Lanka to examine possibilities for greater co-operation in Trade and Investment.

The PM in addition to meeting the important officials of the US government had been invited to an important breakfast meeting with a group of leading Senators, an honour not extended to every visiting dignitary. The Senate has also tabled a bipartisan resolution supporting the peace process in Sri Lanka. Quite unprecedented. The PM has also spoken at the Woodrow Wilson Centre and at the Washington Press Club. It must be mentioned here that the press coverage in the US itself has been unprecedented with Editorials in the prestigious Washington Post, the Washington Times and 'Op Ed' page reports in the prestigious New York Times and other papers., The Mission should be complimented for the publicity obtained in the US, but it must be here stated that no Editor and certainly not the Editors of the New York Times, the Washington Post or the Washington Times would publish particularly on its front page and editorialize unless the event or the personality was significant to the US

The PM has also been given assurances of support by the IMF and the World Bank. Whilst such assurances of support are indeed valuable, I sincerely hope that their so called economic reform or Structural Adjustment programme will not further exacerbate the poverty gap in the country and set us up for easy JVP picking. I hope we would not unthinkingly follow IMF recipes which have led many a country into disaster. In this regard we should take a page out of Mahathir book of self-prescribed painful remedies, not remedies imposed by the IMF unless they are prepared to assume responsibility in the event of the failure of their remedies..

To say that the PM's mission appears to have been a resounding success at this point of time, seems an understatement. Minister Moragoda had described the visit as "a working visit to explore possibilities and opportunities". Well it does seem that more opportunities than ever have been opened for us. It is now left to us to follow up and use 'the possibilities and opportunities'. An Editorial in a daily captioned "Translating US assurances into reality" stated, what is called for now is to translate the goodwill generated from the visit into substantial benefits for Sri Lanka. The ball is now in our court, hope we will not play 'pandu' with it.

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