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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 111

Richard Armitage lays down trajectory for Sri Lanka: Reviving US relations

By Daya Gamage - Asian Tribune Political Note
Washington, D.C. 31 January (

In an OP-ED contribution to Wall Street Journal January 28, former United Stated Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, along with Kara Bue and Lisa Curtis strongly advocates "the U.S. should move quickly to take advantage of the opening presented by the newly elected government (of President Maithripala Sirisena)" while laying down a trajectory for the revival of Sri Lanka-US relations.

Mr. Armitage, who was once deeply involved in the GSL-LTTE peace process during the period (2002-04) Ranil Wickremasinghe was heading the government under President Kumaratunga, made known the trajectory both the U.S. and Sri Lanka need to take when he professed the following in his OP-ED piece to WSJ.

This op-ed was contributed by Richard Armitage, Kara Bue and Lisa Curtis. Mr. Armitage was deputy secretary of State from 2001 to 2005. Ms. Bue was deputy assistant secretary of State for political military affairs from 2003 to 2005. Ms. Curtis is Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

"Now is the time for the U.S. to develop a roadmap for reviving ties with Sri Lanka that reflects the broad array of U.S. interests, including respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as well as enhancing trade and regional economic integration and securing the Indo-Pacific.

"Without plans for restoring U.S.-Sri Lankan relations, Washington risks losing an opportunity to deepen ties with a strategically located island nation of 21 million people. Sri Lankans have taken a major step forward in re-establishing democracy. Under Mr. Sirisena, the country stands to remove itself from China’s Indian Ocean “string of pearls.”
The former deputy secretary (2001-2005) during the Bush administration shuttled between Washington and Colombo several times while visiting Oslo and Tokyo to bring about a settlement between Sri Lanka and Velupillai Prabhakaran's military/separatist outfit developed a very close rapport with Mr. Wickremasinghe often bypassing President Kumaratunga.

This was the time (2002) that the Wickremasinghe administration signed a peace accord with the LTTE brokered by Norway.

In fact, what Mr. Armitage is proposing now 'that the US should develop a close ties with Colombo' was advocated by the Kerry-Lugar Senate Foreign Relations Committee report in December 2009 warning the Obama administration not to allow Sri Lanka to move toward the 'Chinese Orbit'.

The senate report highlighted Sri Lanka's 'strategic location' in the Indian Ocean region.

The influence Washington maintained since the domestic defeat of the Tigers in May 2009 to bring Sri Lanka on to the trajectory it preferred was the enormous trade ties with this South Asian Island-nation.

Mr. Armitage reminds it in his OP-ED piece saying "The U.S. already is Sri Lanka’s most important trading partner. But it can increase its economic engagement through investment in infrastructure projects, especially in the war-torn areas of the north and east."

A classified 'Confidential' diplomatic cable sent to Washington in 2010 by US ambassador to Sri Lanka Patricia Butenis - released by WikiLeaks - gave valuable insight into US's own assessment of any "threat' posed by the Chinese. Ambassador Butenis wrote to Washington "At times the Government of Sri Lanka strikes a defiant nationalistic tone, claiming that it does not need the US and the West since it can turn to new friends such as China. The trade figures do not bear this out, as investment and trade is a one way street, and the West remains an irreplaceable export market. Sri Lanka exports 37% of its goods to the EU, followed by the US with 23% share. Meanwhile the US runs an enormous trade deficit with Sri Lanka. In 2008 Sri Lanka exported $1.96 billion of goods to the US, and only received $283 million in American exports. Although China may well offer an excellent long term market, in terms of trade opportunities Sri Lanka's new friends cannot compete with her old ones in the United States and EU."

The former US State Department senior official further comments on issues the Sirisena administration needs to focus, issues that were and are close to the United States and to Mr. Armitage.

"While human rights and national reconciliation should remain priorities for the U.S. government, Washington must show strategic patience as the new government attempts to implement changes, such as carrying out recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. Mr. Sirisena has pledged to address minority grievances. But he must be given the opportunity to live up to his words."

Mr. Armitage was heavily involved in the peace process, brokered by Norway, during the time Mr. Wickremasinghe was prime minister on the earlier occasion.

His frustration came out when he addressed an international gathering in Oslo, Noway - chaired by the then Norway facilitator Erik Solheim - on 11 November 2011.

This is how Mr. Armitage displayed his frustration with the Rajapaksa administration.

“I don’t think anyone disagrees that the Tamil people have been mistreated and are continuing to lack – across the board – fundamental freedoms, dignity, etc,” Mr. Armitage told the audience.

“Much to my dismay the government of Sri Lanka is still caught up in a chauvinistic attitude,” he said.

“But what to do about it is the question. [Firstly] the international community is generally coalesced around the fact that the north and the east particularly need protections, and the government of Sri Lanka has to move in that direction. … That is the united message the international community gives.

“Second, I don’t think President Rajapaksa is going to be widely welcomed internationally – across the board – until there is some movement. Maybe that’s the wrong strategy, but that’s the way things are going.”

The Asian Tribune earlier carried the sentiments of former US ambassador to Sri Lanka Tezi Schaffer who displayed similar sentiments to lay down a trajectory the new Sirisena administration needs to take. Mr. Armitage, who has equal influence in Washington policymaking circles now lays down a new path Sri Lanka should take and advises Washington to turn a new page on US-Sri Lanka relations.

He advises Washington to extend open arms to President Maithripala Sirisena: "A good first start would be to invite President Sirisena to Washington to show support for an agenda that includes ethnic reconciliation, restoration of the country’s democratic institutions and a broader Sri Lankan foreign policy. An early invitation to the new Sri Lankan leader would demonstrate Washington is ready to turn a new page with Colombo and allow the U.S. to encourage Sri Lanka to respond to the United Nations’ concerns."

To Read the Full Article appeared in Wall Street Journal:

- Asian Tribune -

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