A Breath of Fresh Air from Sri Lanka – Foreign Minister’s Successful Visit to US
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera finished a very successful visit to the United States meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Robert Aderholt, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep Chris Van Hollen and other congressional leaders. Secretary Kerry hailed the recent Presidential election noting that it set Sri Lanka in a new direction.
During this visit, he also addressed large audiences at think thanks like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as well as the prestigious National Press Club in Washington.
At the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Foreign Minister Samaraweera said: “The story that I have to tell you today is a happy one. A story that shows, that although Sri Lanka and this great country are situated far away from each other, and our nations are unequal in size, there is much that binds the people of our two nations. Their commitment to democracy, freedom, liberty, good governance and the rule of law and their dedication to uphold, protect and preserve the pluralistic nature of society.”
At the National Press Club he said: “The vision of the founding fathers of the United States, as well as that of the people of the United States over many generations has created a prosperous society that places a premium on hard work, merit and education. Thus, over the course of its history the US has shown resilience and strength to rebound from any setback. We believe that Sri Lanka can learn from your country’s history and that the opportunity is before us to take our country forward to a new era of peace and prosperity. In this journey we consider the United States as an important partner.”
During the question-and-answer session, a member of the Sri Lankan Muslim community appreciated the efforts of the incoming administration to protect the rights of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority. “I am against all forms of extremism whether it is Buddhist extremists or Muslim extremists,” said Foreign Minister Samaraweera.
He served as the spokesman for President Sirisena's 2015 election campaign and was appointed Foreign Minister by President Maithripala Sirisena following the January 8, 2015 presidential election in Sri Lanka. Earlier in his career, he also served as Foreign Minister during 2005-2007. Samaraweera also served as a member of the UNESCO executive board representing Sri Lanka. His political career includes serving as the Minister of Ports and Aviation, when he oversaw the airports and seaports modernization program. During 2001-2004 he was the chief opposition whip in the Parliament of Sri Lanka.
Commenting on his visit, Sam Samarasinghe wrote in the Ground Views - Journalism for Citizens: "Overall, the Foreign Minister had no big surprises for his audience. But his speech made it clear that Colombo wants to have cordial and closer relations with Washington and that the Sirisena administration was fully aware that it had a difficult balancing act to perform vis-a-vis the Washington-Delhi-Beijing axis.”
With simple words delivered softly and with sincerity, a breath of fresh air seemed to flow from his lips - and from an island where tranquility had sailed away for decades. The romantic island described so beautifully - as a small universe containing so many cultural variations, scenery and climate - by Sir Arthur C. Clark, had become a victim of endless bloodletting during the lost decades. But now it seems to be in steady hands with President Sirisena and Samaraweera at the helm.