U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that the United States was ready to renew its relationship with the government of Sri Lanka, Reuters reported. It had been more than a decade since a U.S. Secretary of State visited Sri Lanka; Colin Powell visited the South Asian country after the devastating tsunami in 2005.
A State Department official said about Sri Lanka’s inclusion into the international community, “It’s a real opening in terms of Sri Lanka’s relationship with the international community and with the United Nations. We’ll have to see where this goes with Sri Lanka and its dialogue with the U.N.”
The United States had its issues with the government of Sri Lanka in the past, before former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was replaced by Maithripala Sirisena this past January in a surprising election win, the Washington Post reported.
Kerry said after meeting with Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, “I am here today because I want to say to the people of Sri Lanka in this journey to restore democracy the American people will stand with you.”
Kerry continued, “We intend to broaden and to deepen our partnership with you.”
Kerry praised President Sirisena’s work to take on corruption, building a strong democratic institution and acknowledging past atrocities.
Kerry will meet with President Sirisena, along with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the head of the Tamil Party, Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, later on Saturday.
The Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, John Sifton, said about Kerry’s trip to Sri Lanka, “[It’s] being read locally as an increasing stamp of approval for the new government.”
Sifton, however, criticized Kerry’s skipping of a trip to the Tamil-majority north, a part of the country that was engaged in a brutal civil war for over 26 years, saying that the omission was “an indication that the U.S. no longer really cares about the massive rights abuses that occurred there and the rights issues which are still relevant today.”
Samaraweera has called the visit by Kerry a “momentous occasion.”
“I believe that this important visit signifies the return of our little island nation to the center stage of international affairs. Today Sri Lanka is well on its way to becoming a fully-fledged parliament democracy, laying the foundation for a new Sri Lanka, built on the pillars of democracy and ethnic harmony.”
Kerry said about Sri Lanka’s future, “It will be harder, not easier, to move forward… True peace is more than the absence of war… [It] requires policies that foster reconciliation, not resentment.”
Kerry will discuss the United States’ willingness to expand its trade and investment opportunities with the government of Ski Lanka. Currently, Sri Lanka exports nearly $2.5 billion in goods to the United States each year.