Remarks to Media by Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam
following talks with
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Monday 6 November 2017
Friends from the Media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted and honoured to welcome Ambassador Thomas Shannon, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and his delegation, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this evening.
This is our second meeting in the last two months or so. Ambassador Shannon and I met in New York in late September, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, when he called on His Excellency the President, to discuss the growing interaction and partnership between our two countries. Ambassador Shannon also met Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera during his visit last month to Washington DC. The Hon. Speaker of our Parliament and a multi-party delegation were in Washington in late September. The level of heightened interaction between our two countries, at all levels, is indeed heartening.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Under Secretary Shannon is no stranger to Sri Lanka, and to all our leaders, and indeed to all of you.
This is his second visit to Sri Lanka. His first visit took place in December 2015. You would all recall, I am sure, that he held a press briefing in this same building during his first visit in December 2015, at which the dates for the first US - Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue were announced. Accordingly the inaugural Partnership Dialogue between the US and Sri Lanka took place in Washington DC., in February last year, 2016, shepherded by none other than, Ambassador Shannon.
Today, I am delighted to announce that Ambassador Shannon and I, together with respective officials of both countries, have held the 2nd US – Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue.
It is, in many ways, an important milestone for our two countries.
As you know, the United States and Sri Lanka have been friends for generations. We have benefitted greatly from our interactions including in the fields of trade, commerce, people-to-people contact, education and cultural sectors, as well as defence and security cooperation. The relationship between our two countries was intensified following the elections in 2015, where the people of Sri Lanka voted for strengthening good governance, democracy, rule of law, reconciliation and sustainable peace – values that our two democracies cherish. This enabled the setting up of the mechanism called the ‘Partnership Dialogue’ which enables our two countries to build our relationship on a firm basis and structure, and enhance our cooperation across a wide range of areas.
The second Partnership Dialogue today, indicates the consolidation of this important and useful mechanism for discussion on a wider range of important issues, and areas of cooperation, between the United States and Sri Lanka.
Ambassador Shannon is the senior-most US official in the new US Administration to visit Sri Lanka. And the second Partnership Dialogue between our two countries, with Ambassador Shannon leading the US delegation, indicates the commitment on the part of the United States and Sri Lanka, across administrations, for strengthening relations spanning a broad range of areas of cooperation.
We have agreed on a Joint Statement following our discussions, which you will receive as you leave this Press Interaction. As you will read in the Joint Statement, cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka cover a multitude of areas, from law enforcement to counter narcotics, counter terrorism, helping address fiscal and debt challenges, strengthening rule of law, transparency and democracy; reconciliation and livelihood support efforts; and military cooperation – just to name a few.
Under Secretary Shannon, in his remarks, will address some of these, and also speak about new areas of cooperation and assistance to Sri Lanka.
Your visit takes place close on the heels of USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, the first US Navy aircraft carrier to visit Sri Lanka in 32 years. We have had several ship visits during the last two years. Moreover, the US Marine Corps helped us to establish the Sri Lanka Marine Corps. We are extremely pleased and appreciative of these developments, and increasing military cooperation, which yields mutually beneficial bilateral and regional strategic and security benefits.
The participation in August–September, of Acting Assistant Secretary Wells, in the Indian Ocean regional conference that was held in Sri Lanka, was encouraging for us, in terms of the US engagement in pursuing joint initiatives that enhance security, stability, transparency and economic opportunity in the Indo-Pacific region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ambassador Shannon’s visit this time is a very brief one. He arrived this evening, and will leave tomorrow morning. Apart from discussions with senior government officials and ministers, he has called on the Honourable Prime Minister earlier this evening, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs as well.
Under Secretary Shannon,
I am grateful to you for undertaking this visit, but I hope that your next visit to Sri Lanka would be a longer one. We look forward to staying engaged with you in the coming days, weeks and months, as our two countries work towards enhancing our bilateral relations and also engage on areas of mutual concern, regionally and globally.
I must also express my gratitude to you for your leadership in promoting US-Sri Lanka relations across administrations, and for the support you provided me personally in my capacity as Ambassador for Sri Lanka to the USA, in Washington, until recently.
I want to also place on record, our appreciation for the tireless efforts of Ambassador Atul Keshap, and his dedicated team in Colombo, who work with us closely to make the bonds between our two countries ever stronger, with each passing day.
I now invite Ambassador Shannon to address you, after which, both of us will take two questions each from the media.
Remarks of US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon. (Courtesy of US Embassy, Colombo. https://lk.usembassy.gov/)
Verbatim Transcript of Question & Answer with
US Under Secretary of State & Foreign Secretary following Remarks to Media
Question: Ambassador, Sri Lanka is at the moment recovering from a debt crisis. I mean in your discussion did you focus anything on helping on debt and fiscal consolidation?
Under Sec: Up to this point, no. But we are going to dinner afterwards and having a chance to talk with the Minister of Finance who I saw in Washington also as the Foreign Secretary noted. And we are quite happy to engage on the issue of debt. It is quite an important one. Obviously, we want to make sure that as Sri Lanka advances, that it does so in a way that allows it to take full advantage of its lending capabilities, and has a financial structure to its development- that is sustainable and enduring
Question: Ambassador, this is Sulochana from the Ceylon Today Newspaper. My question is that USA sponsored the resolution (US at the UNHRC). And now we have been hinted that the USA, is trying to withdraw from the United Nations, the UNHRC. So how serious is the USA regarding the reconciliation process we are working on?
Under Sec: I’m sorry I did not quite catch the question, when you said we were withdrawing from..?.
Question: The UN…UNHCR, is there something? That the US really wanted to withdraw. There is something, a hint going on.
Under Sec: Ok, I’m not hinting. First of, let me make a bigger point here.
We played a significant role in the creation of the United Nations in the aftermath of the World War II. Secretary of the State Cordell Hull won the Nobel Peace Prize for the role of the US played in creating the United Nations. We are committed to the United Nations. We are committed to the important role that it has played over time. At the same time we are committed to its good governance and to reforming the United Nations to ensure that it remains relevant, both in terms of its management structure, its financial structure but also its political purpose. Our Ambassador to the United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has made no secret of our concern about some aspects of United Nations behavior, especially its singling out of Israel for special attention and not always positive attention. This remains very important to us.. We want to make sure that all countries are treated with an even hand and treated in a positive fashion within the UN context. But in this regard, our purpose has always been to work within the UN institutions and wherever possible. And so, as far as the HRC is concerned, I think we are there to stay. Thank you for the question.
For. Sec: If his two questions are done? But if there is anyone who has to raise a question in Sinhala, I can translate. If not, can we take,.. this question is for him? Will you take one more?..
Under Sec: Oh, yeah, sure..
For. Sec: Yes, please. Go ahead..
Question: I have a question for Mr. Kariyawasam. Given the accelerated pace of the US and Sri Lanka military to military relations in recent times, how would you say, what is the bearing of this development on Sri Lanka’s non-aligned status? Are we still a non-aligned country?
For. Sec: Sri Lanka remains non-aligned. If you call it, we have a partnership, it’s a partnership we have with the US. It’s not an an alliance as such. So it’s a partnership and having partnerships with many countries, does not contradict Sri Lanka’s policy of non–alignment in terms of our political approach to international affairs. And Sri Lanka as you know, is a country that believes in inclusive relations, rather than exclusive relations. So our very close partnership with the US, we believe is a positive element in our approach towards international relations that is based on not having alliance relationships.
Question: Secretary Shannon, last week a delegation from the EU was here in Sri Lanka visiting areas in the North and visiting Colombo. They said that they were disappointed with the pace of reconciliation reforms promised by the current government. Do you have any comment on the pacing of reforms and America’s concerns?
Under Sec: Thank you for the question. It is an important one. Obviously, we all want a fast pace. And I think nobody wants it more than the Sri Lankan people and the Sri Lankan Government. You know, as I noted in my remarks, the whole world is watching Sri Lanka because of the incredible commitment it has made to overcoming the consequences of the conflict here in Sri Lanka. And the way in which it has sought to address issues of reconciliation and reform. And the rest of the world want Sri Lanka to be successful because they realize that Sri Lanka could be an example or a model that is immediately relevant to many other countries around the world. So, we all want to see things moving faster. But at the same time, we recognize that we are operating in a political context and political environment that Sri Lanka is emerging from a very complicated and violent conflict. Therefore we are prepared to work with Sri Lanka and help it along its way, recognizing through that, it is the Sri Lankans themselves that have to make this move. So, I think the short answer to your question is, we always want these things to go faster. But we want to make sure that as they are completed and consolidated, that they are enduring and sustainable. And this is why we are going to be Sri Lanka’s partner throughout this entire process.
For. Sec: Thank you very much. Don’t forget to take the copy of the Joint Statement when you go out. Thank you very much.
End of Interaction with Media