Diplomacy: US Ambassador goes online to encounter misinformation

Are you taking action in Sri Lanka to restore the UNP government? U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: No

US ambassador in Colombo Teplitz went online through the embassy’s social media site to answer the questions on Sri Lanka –USA relations today. Here are some interesting excerpts of the dialogue;

Amm. Teplitz- I am Ready! Are You? 
U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: Thank you for joining me. Though the circumstances that surrounded our last live chat in May were difficult, I enjoyed hearing from you and hope that today’s discussion will be just as candid and productive!

For the next hour, I would like to discuss how we can work together to identify and combat misinformation and disinformation that has been propagated about U.S.-Sri Lanka cooperation or about any other topic. Let’s start by addressing recent media reports about three US-Sri Lanka partnership agreements. Two of the agreements, the draft Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which is under negotiation and has not been concluded, and Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which was signed in 2007 and renewed in 2017, aim to facilitate military cooperation, particularly our joint exercises and disaster relief. The third, unrelated agreement is the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, a $480 million development assistance gift designed to promote economic growth in Sri Lanka.

I would like to share with you a couple of the basic facts right up front:

• The United States has no intent to build a military base or establish a permanent military presence in Sri Lanka. Similarly, the United States gains no land ownership or control through MCC.
• When the United States extends support and assistance to the people of Sri Lanka it is at the invitation of the Sri Lankan government.
• The ACSA agreement is designed to provide a legal framework for logistical support between the US and Sri Lankan militaries and to exchange supplies and services, as well as payment for those supplies and services.
• The VFA addresses the status of U.S. military and civilian employees of the U.S. Department of Defense who may be temporarily present in Sri Lanka for exercises or o0fficial duty at the invitation of the Government of Sri Lanka.
• The MCC is not contingent on the VFA and ACSA, and is not a military agreement. The MCC “Compact” is a development assistance agreement to support economic development. It is a gift from the people of the United States, not a loan.

I’m happy to talk about these agreements more, but I’d like to hear your thoughts. In my view, misinformation and disinformation, particularly on social media, can undermine confidence in the integrity of our democracies.

User: Are you taking action in Sri Lanka through your intelligence unit, the CIA, to restore the UNP government and take over as president of the UNP?

U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: No -- thanks for asking about this because this is the type of misinformation that can spread quickly and cause harm

User: I too have asked a similar question and it’s said that the US government had funded “Regime Change” & bringing present government into power. So many University Professors were deployed to create public opinion. The common man thinks it’s done by the USA with your funding.

U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: Anthony, thanks for pointing out misinformation. The people of Sri Lanka elected the current government and will choose the next in a few months. The United States supports the will of the people and stands ready to work with whichever government is elected.

User: Does the MCC Compact establish an economic corridor between Colombo and Trincomalee?

U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: No, Sami, it doesn't. The MCC Compact is a development assistance agreement.

Basically, the Government of Sri Lanka and MCC together identified weak transport infrastructure and weak land administration practices as two binding constraints to economic growth in Sri Lanka. To address these constraints, the proposed compact consists of two projects: a transportation project and a land project. The total budget for the compact is $480 million.

The transportation project will upgrade physical roadway networks, modernize traffic systems, and introduce policy and regulatory reforms. These investments will reduce severe traffic bottlenecks, create safer, more reliable public transportation, and lower the transport costs required to connect people and goods with booming markets.

The $350 million transportation project has an estimated economic rate of return of 19% and seeks to increase the relative efficiency and capacity of urban and provincial transport infrastructure in the Western, Central, Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces.

The $67 million land administration project has an estimated economic rate of return of 30% and aims to expand and improve existing Government of Sri Lanka initiatives to increase the availability of spatial data and land rights information. The project will initially focus on districts in the Central, North-Western, North-Central and Eastern Provinces.

Land activities will help the Government create an inventory of state lands, modernize methods of valuing lands, strengthen tenure security for smallholders, women, and firms, and digitize deeds records so that they are less vulnerable to damage, theft, and loss. The US Government will NOT buy, sell, or own any actual land -- or take control of any actual land -- under this agreement.

User: Is US negotiating an agreement with Sri Lankan government that could allow the US military to land in Sri Lanka without VISA? If your answer is "No", what's the procedure if US military wants to land in Sri Lanka?

U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: Duminda, we are still negotiating the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Government of Sri Lanka. Your question underscores the reason our countries would benefit from this type of agreement so we can work out these procedures in advance and facilitate, for example, disaster relief and joint military exercises. No troops - even under a VFA - will enter Sri Lanka without proper documentation and prior approval.

User: Having seen the very little information that has been released for the public to see, a main concern about the terms of the SOFA many would have is the immunity US defense personnel seek from the local jurisdiction. A prime example for the drawbacks such immunity can create is the Fisher vs Deans case that happened in Japan. I am sure there can be many more incidents which have not been made public. Having seen plenty of such incidents, and provided it is known that war crimes, human rights violations, sex offenses and the likes, are common occurrences that go hand in hand with the presence and activity of militarized groups, an interesting question will be: What justification the Ambassador, or the US government can provide for seeking immunity for their defense personnel from a local jurisdiction?

U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: Nalika, thanks for raising this important concern. Difficult and even tragic circumstances can occur. One of the reasons for having an agreement such as the VFA (or SOFA) is to agree in advance on how to deal with them. Many countries have agreements that specify a particular law to be applied in certain circumstances. For example, when Sri Lankan soldiers overseas were accused of crimes, they were sent home and faced an investigation and legal proceedings under Sri Lankan law. Such occurrences are extremely rare - thankfully!

User: Apart from SOFA can we ask other questions but relevant to SOFA but where there are direct involvement of US embassy which try to object judiciary and the protocol of Sri Lanka.

U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: Ganga, great questions. There has been a lot of disinformation on this topic recently in the media. The United States has not and will not interfere or become directly involved in Sri Lanka's judiciary. My country has sponsored training for Sri Lankan judges and lawyers at the request of the Sri Lankan government. This training includes sharing of best practices on new types of crimes such as anti-money laundering and terrorist-financing. A strong and independent judiciary is a pillar of a strong democracy.

User: Ambassador, what is the level of security cooperation US has with Sri Lanka especially in the aftermath of Easter attacks? Also how has mutual investment and trade fared in recent times?

U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: Chameera, great question! Thanks. After the Easter attacks, at the request of the Sri Lankan government we provided FBI support to the government's investigation of the attacks. Going forward, we will look for more ways to partner with Sri Lankan law enforcement and security agencies to prevent future attacks. There is a new kind of terrorism out there that threatens all countries. As a long-standing partner and fellow democracy, we know that terrorism can be confronted successfully only through strong partnerships and the continued respect for rule of law and civil liberties. On the economic front, the United States is Sri Lanka’s largest export market and accounts for nearly $3 billion of the $11.7 billion of goods Sri Lanka exports annually. U.S. imports from Sri Lanka are mostly clothing, but also include rubber, industrial supplies, gemstones, tea, and spices. Top U.S. exports to Sri Lanka include animal feeds, medical equipment, soybeans, plastics, dairy products, wheat, cloth, and textiles.

User: Could you please elaborate what steps you are taking to convey the foreign policy of Trump administration to the Sri Lankans? I believe it is an important step since most of the news that is spinned by the globalist elitist media is just anti-trump propaganda.

U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka: Nethaj, great question! As a diplomat, I talk frequently with Sri Lankan government officials, business people, and citizens from all walks of life. I use these opportunities to explain our policies, and to learn what these people see as important in a partnership with the United States. I also give interviews in the media and public speeches/talks -- and Facebook chats - to convey our point of view. You may also have notice that I tweet a lot and my team at the Embassy posts information on our Facebook page, website, and through our Embassy Twitter account. We also have an Instagram page.

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