Thank you, Ambassador Taylor. It’s a real pleasure to be here today at the U.S. Institute for Peace, which has long sought to bring together and give voice to the constituencies for peace building and reconciliation. I also want to thank the Heritage Foundation, and especially Lisa Curtis, for co-sponsoring this discussion and also for the excellent body of work they have put out on Sri Lanka. And I want to thank Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States Prasad Kariyawasam and our U.S. Ambassador in Colombo Atul Keshap, for their steadfast leadership in each of our respective capitals.
I must say, this is a fitting venue to talk about one of the more optimistic narratives on peacebuilding in a world where such narratives are all too rare and where the headlines are dominated by sectarian conflicts and the politics of division.
Sri Lanka’s journey has had more than its fair share of darkness, division, and the devastation of war. But what is remarkable is the resilience of its democracy, the determination of its people to seek out a new future for all of its citizens, and to refuse to remain mired in the past. That determination found voice in the January 8th elections of 2015 and brought in a new leadership that rejected the politics of fear and division and sought to bring the country together.
It was a team that was elected with the broadest coalition of political parties, bringing together Sinhalese and Tamil, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims – a true rainbow coalition, as the Foreign Minister has called it.
And the government of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has also made clear that as it seeks to bring about a new future for the country, it also seeks to repair and restore Sri Lanka’s relations and reputation with the international community. That effort has been led principally by the gentleman here with us today – His Excellency, Mangala Samaraweera, the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka.
The Foreign Minister has been a key player in the remarkable transformation in U.S.-Sri Lanka relationship. His multiple visits to the United States and other capitals, his relationship with Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Samantha Power, and his principled advocacy for restoring Sri Lanka’s standing in the global community – through engagement rather than avoidance; and through cooperation rather than conflict – has won the respect of his peers and resulted in a resolution last September at the Human Rights Council in Geneva which was co-sponsored and co-introduced by Sri Lanka and the United States, along with our other international partners.
We must underscore that this Sri Lankan journey is still unfolding, with many steep hills yet to be climbed and many turns in the road. Much of the very hard work of reconciliation and justice still lies ahead. But as Secretary Kerry said during his historic visit – and reiterated in their meeting today – this is a journey that Sri Lanka does not have to make alone. The United States will be there as a friend and partner.
In fact, it is this pledge of partnership that brings Minister Samaraweera to Washington this week as we launch our first U.S.-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue. Through this Partnership Dialogue, we are establishing a forum to engage and advance all aspects of our relationship in a comprehensive discussion that brings together the strategic and security components, the democratic governance and human rights agenda, as well as the economic challenges.
So Foreign Minister, let me say, it is a heavy burden of expectation and responsibility that is resting on your shoulders. But I know that your shoulders are broad, your back is strong and your commitment runs deep.
I won’t regale our audience with your 30-year history of public service and achievement – they can read it in your bio. I will simply say that as the eyes of the world are on Sri Lanka, your country is fortunate to have you representing your country on the world stage.
Ladies, and gentlemen, without further ado, I present to you His Excellency the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraweera.
Speech made by Nisha Desai Biswal,Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington, DC on February 25, 2016