US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has asserted that even if Sri Lanka didn’t accept the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) agreement, it wouldn’t undermine bilateral relations between the two countries. Pompeo said so in an exclusive interview with Indeewari Amuwatte on ‘Hyde Park’, Ada Derana 24 on Wednesday (28). The interview:
Q: In terms of the MCC agreement, Sri Lanka missed the deadlines twice. The United States is still talking about it. What will happen if it is politically challenging for the Sri Lankan government to enter into the MCC agreement?
It’s one of many things being proffered. If it doesn’t make sense for Sri Lanka, then Sri Lankans will choose not to accept that. The relationships, the strengths, the depths, and complexity of our relationship far exceed any one transaction and one opportunity. There will be plenty. We will work closely on them alongside the Sri Lankan government.
Q: Thank you for your time here with us Secretary Pompeo. Your visit here is termed crucial, seen as a rare one, and particularly? given the timing of the visit. What’s so important is that you had to communicate at this juncture?
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Thanks for giving me the chance to be with you. It’s been wonderful to be here in Colombo. I’m in this region a lot, and I planned to come here earlier but the world just got in the way, and I had to delay it a bit so I managed to get here now. I’m thrilled to be here. It’s an important time in the history of the region. Great democracies like the one that we have here in Sri Lanka, and the one we have in the United States have a shared vision on how life ought to operate, there ought to be sovereign nations and free people who get the chance to live the lives they want, and thus?? here to share that message. The United States stands ready to do all that we can to recognise Sri Lanka’s sovereignty but to make sure that the people of Sri Lanka understand that the US is a friend and a partner in a democracy with a shared vision for how the world ought to operate.
Q: How would you term future relations of Sri Lanka and the United States will be, given this crucial visit in Sri Lanka and the comment made by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry for enhanced relations with the US?
There are many opportunities and many things we can do. We talked a lot on private businesses investing here. Not only those who are here today investing more, but new opportunities in agricultural or renewable energy and technology, and lots of opportunities for the Sri Lankan people. Sri Lanka has to do its part, it’s got to be welcoming, have the rule of law and transparency so that American investors will want to come and invest here. But I’m confident that we will deliver on that, and when we do it will be good for American companies that will come here but it will be really good for the Sri Lankan people. There will be jobs and opportunities, and wealth creation, and all the things that democracies and the private sector can do in a way that authoritarian regimes simply can’t.
Q: Also Mr. Secretary, recent comments by Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson urging Sri Lankan to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence for long term prosperity as Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. What exactly are these difficult decisions or choices that the US expects Sri Lanka to take?
I know precisely the things that Sri Lanka needs to do but more importantly the Sri Lankan people know, and the Sri Lankan leadership. This isn’t about America imposing its vision on Sri Lanka, quite the opposite. It is Sri Lanka sharing with America the things we can do to make life better for the Sri Lankan people here. Those are the choices we hope Sri Lanka’s government makes, when it does there will be opportunity, there will be good partnerships, not only with the United States but with the other democracies in the region. I travelled from India, I will travel from here today to the Maldives, I’ve been in Asia and South East Asia a great deal in my time as Secretary of State, whether it be South Korea, Australia or Japan. These democracies have the opportunity to work together, so I’m confident that Sri Lanka will want to be part of that. Part of what prospectively looks like real opportunity and real sovereignty. Those are the things that will make life better for the Sri Lankan people, not a history where you have other countries show up and put huge debt on the country and impose huge burdens on the country. And when they come here they don’t show up with the private sector and don’t hire Sri Lankans. The democratic countries including the United States have a very different vision.
The meetings today give me real hope that we will be able to close together on that shared vision.
Q: Does this mean the US will respect Sri Lanka’s wishes to remain a neutral country and not be entangled in a geopolitical power play?
It’s about choices. Every country makes choices. The choices will be do you want democracy and freedom? I’m confident that the Sri Lankan government does want exactly that. When you choose those things, you end up with different kinds of partners. You end up with partners who respect Sri Lanka’s decision-making as a sovereign entity, and when there needs to be security cooperation, we provided two coast guard cutters so the two can do good work on countering narcotics, and we show up here and ensure that the terror risk is reduced inside of Sri Lanka. These are the kind of things that democracies work on together. We have a shared vision and a shared goal, and I am very confident that the Sri Lankan people will end up in a place that ends up with a very close and very dynamic, powerful partnership that benefits both of our two countries.
A: Matters pertaining to accountability; you mentioned this during your joint press briefing. How will the United States work with Sri Lanka in order for Sri Lanka to work on its accountability commitments and also about Army Chief Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva who is banned from the United States? Have these come under discussion?
We talked about all of this today. Look we have a set of legal requirements in the United States and we apply them even handedly. We try to get the facts right, and we do that in every case. I talked with the President about this, and I talked to the Foreign Minister too. I’m confident that the Sri Lankan people want accountability and justice, and that these leaders are intent on delivering. We will help where we can. Ultimately we can provide some technical assistance. We can work with them in international fora to deliver on these ideas of reconciliation and accountability. But ultimately it will be the Sri Lankan leadership and the Sri Lankan people who will have to work on this. It’s important; we hope your country gets this right. It’s the right thing to make sure that part of Sri Lanka’s history is handled in a way that is appropriate and recognises what really transpired, but with an eye towards what is ahead – all the good things that can happen in the future.
Q: One last question Secretary Pompeo. China is playing an increased role in Sri Lanka, India too, and the US offers SOFA and MCC. What else is on the table?
What America offers almost always is companies and private investment, partnerships and friendship. That’s how we roll in the United States. We won’t show up with state sponsored enterprises. We won’t show up with debt packages that a country can’t possibly repay. We won’t attempt to use that debt to extort actions by the government. We want what the Sri Lankan people want – a chance to thrive, a chance to have real opportunities, a chance to travel around the world, and make a better life for each of them and for their families. Those are two very different models. One is for democracy and freedom, the other is a tyrannical authoritarian model. We’re convinced that the Sri Lankan people will make the right choices for themselves, and as that has been for a very long time. Your foreign minister reminded me of it being the oldest democracy in Asia. I’m confident that tradition will be important and powerful and will mean an increasingly good relationship between the United States and Sri Lanka.
BASL urges President to de-escalate tensions in different parts of country
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to instruct the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of tensions in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by the public.”
“Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint”, the BASL has said in a media statement.
“We also call upon you to ensure that steps are taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.”
The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police.
The armed forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.
Full text of the BASL letter to the President:
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its gravest concerns at the current situation at fuel stations throughout the country and the reports of several incidents of conflicts between civilians and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations. There has been video footage of civilians being assaulted by personnel of the armed forces and the police, the latest being of a civilian being kicked by an Army officer at a fuel station. There have also been situations of the police and Army opening fire into the air to contain the crowd.
Your Excellency is no doubt aware that thousands of desperate civilians are waiting in queues at hundreds of fuel stations in the country. The queues are kilometres long. The tension at the fuel stations have arisen from this desperation for which there is no immediate solution in sight.
The BASL wishes to warn Your Excellency of the imminent dangers this situation could give rise to. The present unrest could result in a conflagration between civilians and members of the armed forces or the police. Some years ago, confrontations between members of the public and the armed forces resulted in the deaths of civilians. Such incidents between the members of the armed forces or the police and the civilians will discredit Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the police.
We call upon Your Excellency to take all necessary steps to give instructions to the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of the situation in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by public. Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. We also call upon you to ensure that steps be taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.
The Sri Lanka Army and other service personnel must be deployed only in very limited circumstances as contemplated in the Criminal Procedure Code. The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police. The Armed Forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.
We trust that this will receive the immediate attention of the Government as to do otherwise may otherwise result in unprecedented turmoil and harm.
The BASL believes that the ultimate solution to the situation at fuel stations is to be transparent with the public and to ensure an equitable and effective system of fuel distribution throughout the country.
SC orders AG to submit report on fuel purchases and distribution
By A.J.A. Abeynayake
A three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekera yesterday ordered the Attorney General to submit a report on fuel purchases, the distribution thereof and the sectors to be provided with fuel on a priority basis.
The Supreme Court made the order after considering two fundamental rights petitions presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.
The BASL has requested the Supreme Court to direct the Cabinet of Ministers to consult all stakeholders and independent experts to formulate and implement the necessary policies, and to provide concessions in relation to the prices of essential goods and services to the people including LP gas, fuel, electricity, milk powder, medicines and food.
The petitions were filed by the President of the BASL Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President Anura Meddegoda PC, former Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Pasindu Silva.
A/L may be delayed by one month
Education Minister Sushil Premajayantha told Parliament yesterday that although it had been scheduled to hold the G.C.E. A/L Examination 2022 in November this year, it could be further delayed by another month.
Responding to a question by MP Shantha Bandara, the Minister said: “The examination should be held at least after three months of releasing the results of the previous A/L exam because the students who need to sit it again should have enough time to prepare,” the Minister said.
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