| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( October 8, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Diplomatic circles focused attention on President Mahinda Rajapaksa's recent view that, following his talks with United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, he (Rajapaksa) felt that the US had softened its stance on Sri Lanka. It is not known that Mahinda took such a view due to the cordiality of Kerry or what was prompted to him by External Affairs Ministry Monitoring MP, Sajin Vass Gunawardena, who spearheads the effort to change the US stand on Sri Lanka through a PR firm employed by Colombo at a heavy cost.

Chris Nonis controversy

Following the Chris Nonis controversy, Sajin who emerged into the limelight again is reported to be carrying his Tab to Temple Trees to show Mahinda that the stand of the West was now being softened through his efforts. The only factor to the benefit of Sanjin is that the process adopted by US and other Western countries with regard to war crimes and human rights violations being slow in nature. That process is customary to those countries. But Sajin may impress that because of his efforts the process was being delayed or could be abandoned. Since Sajin wanted US PR firms involved to soften the US stand, Mahinda must be thinking on same lines on a softened stand.

When John Kerry assumed the office of US Secretary of State, he had hopes on Mahinda's Government. That was because Kerry as former Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman planned and discussed with his Senate colleague Richard Lugar about the US stand on Sri Lanka based on a report.

Here are some excerpts of that report: "The United States cannot afford to 'lose' Sri Lanka. This does not mean changing the relationship overnight or ignoring the real concerns about Sri Lanka's political and humanitarian record. It does mean, however, considering a new approach that increases US leverage vis-à-vis Sri Lanka by expanding the number of tools at our disposal. A more multifaceted US strategy would capitalize on the economic, trade and security aspects of the relationship. This approach in turn could catalyze much-needed political reforms that will ultimately help secure longer term US strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. US strategy should also invest in Sinhalese parts of the country, instead of just focusing aid on the Tamil-dominated North and East."

Despite this scenario, it looks, Mahinda had not given up hopes on Kerry after he met him in New York. Mahinda thinks that there is a dispute between Kerry and Barack Obama's White House Team on the Sri Lankan issue. Evaluating Kerry's talks with him and the report presented earlier, it is evident that Mahinda is of the view that the White House Team stands firm on Sri Lanka.

After Kerry was nominated as Secretary of State, the International Policy Digest website published a letter on how Kerry viewed countries like Sri Lanka.

Nixonian style

Here is a part of that published viewpoint: "When it comes to foreign policy, Barack Obama is a control freak. He has embraced a Nixonian style of foreign policy planning – meaning power is very centralized. Decisions are made by a small group of White House insiders, Obama's inner circle. Hillary Clinton has been an outstanding Secretary of State; she has performed her duties with dignity and grace. But she has principally served as an implementer of policy, not a strategist. It is true that Hillary Clinton was an outspoken proponent of US intervention in Libya, as were Susan Rice and Samantha Power. But even Libya was not considered a preeminent foreign policy concern by this White House. It frequently looked like events were passing Obama by, as one official later noted that the US was (oxymoronically) 'leading from behind' in Libya.

With regard to Clinton's tenure at State, Aaron David Miller, expounds upon Obama's need for control. "But did she own and dominate – on behalf of the President – a single issue of strategic consequence pertaining to peace or war? There were some issues that the military, CIA and White House appropriately dominated – think Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terrorism. But on others – Arab-Israeli peacemaking, the US-Israel relationship and the big think on Iran strategy – the White House exclusively dominated discussions where the State Department could have played a central role." Barack Obama trusts John Kerry and, importantly, Kerry did not challenge Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2008. Perhaps even more importantly, Kerry is not married to Bill Clinton. It's possible that Obama will let a Secretary Kerry run with a few issues of his own, although Obama will still maintain a tight grip on the most important foreign policy issues. Here's the rub: At this point it's hard to know if Obama would want to set Sri Lankan policy by himself, or whether he'd be willing to hand that off to John Kerry and his staffers. Sri Lanka will never be America's foremost concern in South Asia, but that doesn't mean diplomatic relations with Washington, are not important. They are important; it's just not clear how important President Obama perceives that relationship to be.

Paragon

John Kerry is a paragon of Washington's foreign policy establishment. If John Kerry were allowed to take the reins on Sri Lankan policy, it's likely that military and security ties would matter more than human rights. This isn't to say that John Kerry doesn't care about human rights; he most certainly does. But he probably cares less about human rights in the context of Sri Lanka. John Kerry knows how the war ended; he also fully understands why the US supported the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to defeat the LTTE".

When this letter is read one cannot have doubts about Mahinda's thinking on Kerry. So, Mahinda's Government must be thinking that Kerry could overcome pressure from the White House Team and take decisions on Sri Lanka better than former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Contrary to these views and stands, the Spokesperson at the US State Department expressed a different view this week with regard to Sri Lanka. She announced there was no change in the US stand on Sri Lanka.

Obama has a short period

Come what may, Mahinda must be thinking that Obama has a short period more in office as US President. In New York, Mahinda went to the Clinton Foundation and met Hillary with the view to build up a relationship with the Clinton family if Hillary planned to contest the next US presidency. The Mahinda Government thinks that the US adopted a tough stand on Sri Lanka when Hillary was Secretary of State due to the pressure of the White House Team.

The next move of the Mahinda Government could be to use the good offices of business magnate Harry Jayawardene's daughter who has close links with the Clinton Foundation. Sooner or later Mahinda's Government will realize that it is not easy to soften the US stand on Sri Lanka through PR Firms or personal contacts. Last Monday's statement by the External Affairs Ministry in Colombo that the President never said about a US stand being softened is a clear signal that Mahinda's Government has already realized the true stand of the US towards Sri Lanka.


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