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An Interview with Ambassador Blake

America's experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has taught us that terrorism cannot be defeated by military alone - US Ambassador Blake

(November 21, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) "America's experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere has taught us that terrorism cannot be defeated by military measures alone. That is why we have urged the Government of Sri Lanka to adopt a political solution to the conflict now that meets the aspirations of all of Sri Lanka's communities. Such a solution would hasten reconciliation and give Tamils in particular a greater sense that they will enjoy a future of hope and dignity within a united Sri Lanka. This could disprove the LTTE's claim that they are the sole representative of Sri Lanka's Tamils and the only ones who care about Sri Lanka's Tamils. It also would help persuade Tamils in Canada, the US and other parts of the diaspora to stop funding the LTTE which in turn would hasten an end to the conflict," according to Ambassador Blake.

by Udara Soysa

Here full text of an Exclusive Interview with Ambassador Robert Blake,

1. Tell us briefly about your experience in Sri Lanka?

My family and I have had a wonderful time here in Sri Lanka so far. We have been fortunate enough to travel widely throughout the country south of Anuradhapura and have really enjoyed the opportunity to see Sri Lanka’s cultural, natural, and wildlife heritage. We have also been happy to make a wide range of Sri Lankan friends.

2. What had been the best memory so far?

My best memory is seeing, with my wife and three daughters, hundreds of elephants grazing and playing with each other in Minneriya National Park on a sparkling afternoon last September.

3. Any embarrassing moments in Sri Lanka so far?

At the American Chamber of Commerce ball this year I was persuaded to perform a rap song about Embassy life, complete with “bling” and backup singers. Everyone had a good laugh – at me.

4. You are a father of three wonderful daughters. How had you been able to balance your family life with your diplomatic work?

Throughout my career I have always tried to strike a balance between work and family, and I have encouraged my staff to do so as well. Everyone can achieve this by maintaining a well-organized schedule, prioritizing, getting work done promptly, and making sure to carve out time for family and friends.

5. What motivated you to get into the field of Foreign Service?

I come from a long family tradition of public service. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a U.S. diplomat and my father was a U.S. Ambassador. Both of them provided great inspiration for me. But I didn’t always want to be a diplomat. Before joining the Foreign Service I worked at a public interest environmental organization for several years and enjoyed that. What attracted me to the diplomatic service was the chance to serve my country, travel widely and meet new friends, and make a difference in other peoples’ lives.

6. You had an illustrious career in Foreign Service. What has been the secret for your success in this field?

The most important factor for success in the Foreign Service is strong people skills. Everyone is intelligent and hard-working. But the most successful diplomats must have the ability to work easily with others, to take their concerns seriously, and to treat everyone, from the janitor to the Ambassador, with respect, humor and dignity. It is also important to not take yourself too seriously!

7. You have so far served in India, Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt. India and Egypt are in particular very important countries for the US Foreign Policy. Had your assignments in these two countries been more challenging than other assignments?

Serving in India and Egypt was not particularly more challenging. Both embassies have large, highly capable American and local staffs to handle the full range of important activities that the U.S. has underway in both countries. Perhaps my most challenging assignment was in Algeria in 1993-4 where, for more than half of my tour there, Islamic militants were targeting U.S. and other western diplomats. This made it very difficult to carry out normal diplomatic duties, to say nothing of maintaining a normal social life. Nonetheless, Algeria was one of my most memorable postings because of the passionate and inspiring Algerians I met and worked with - people who overcame these same obstacles and had the courage to persevere to try to help and improve their country.

8. You are now a familiar figure to many Sri Lankans. You travel frequently around the country with many service projects. Do you feel safe to travel freely around the country given the security situation?

I do feel safe here. American and other westerners are not targets of LTTE terrorism, but we always face the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We feel deep sympathy for those who are targets and for the many innocent civilians who have been victims of terrorist acts.

9. How do you see the ongoing Sri Lankan war against the Tamil rebels? The government has made significant inroads, however, do you believe that the war can be militarily won?

America’s experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere has taught us that terrorism cannot be defeated by military measures alone. That is why we have urged the Government of Sri Lanka to adopt a political solution to the conflict now that meets the aspirations of all of Sri Lanka’s communities. Such a solution would hasten reconciliation and give Tamils in particular a greater sense that they will enjoy a future of hope and dignity within a united Sri Lanka. This could disprove the LTTE’s claim that they are the sole representative of Sri Lanka’s Tamils and the only ones who care about Sri Lanka’s Tamils. It also would help persuade Tamils in Canada, the US and other parts of the diaspora to stop funding the LTTE which in turn would hasten an end to the conflict.

10. You have been an avid advocate for a political solution in Sri Lanka. What do you think is the ideal power sharing structure for Sri Lanka?

This will be an important question for Sri Lankans themselves to decide. Our interest is in seeing a peaceful solution that will satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese communities and will allow Sri Lanka to realize the great promise all of us know this country has.
11. If you were elected as Sri Lankan President, what would be the first three things you would do to change in this country?

Such a task would be well beyond a man of my modest capabilities! But if a close friend were elected President, I would advise him or her to reach out to opposition parties to forge a bi-partisan approach to the country’s challenges; to seek to engage the energies and ideas of the private sector in tackling the country’s economic and development challenges; and to appoint senior Muslim, Tamil and Sinhalese leaders to his or her team to help find a common approach to solving the country’s long conflict.

12. How do you see the changes in US foreign policy with the new President elect Barack Obama being in office?

In terms of U.S. policy toward Sri Lanka, I don’t suspect you will see too many changes. Both Republicans and Democrats have long supported a peaceful resolution to the conflict in this country. On U.S. policy toward South Asia as a whole, President-elect Obama has pledged to build economic and security relationships in the region, capitalizing on the progress President Bush’s team has made in this important region.

13. Do you think significant improvements in Sri Lankan Human Rights record will strengthen more military cooperation between Sri Lanka and USA?

Yes. Sri Lanka has a highly professional military, many of whom have been trained in the United States. American forces have long appreciated the opportunity to train and work with their Sri Lankan counterparts. However, recent human rights problems in Sri Lanka have obliged the U.S. to cut off military exports to Sri Lanka and limit the scope of our military cooperation. We are confident that the end of fighting in Sri Lanka would also bring a reduction in human rights problems here that would enable us to strengthen our military cooperation.

14. What is your message for Sri Lankan expatriate community living in USA and North America?

My message to the Sri Lankan expatriate community is that your country needs you. Sri Lanka needs your ideas, your investment, your optimism, and your understanding of the wider world. Please remember those less fortunate than you and that you have an important role to play in your home country’s future.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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