Media Remarks by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland

Fourth Session of the United States-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland

Media Remarks
March 23, 2022

We are very, very pleased to be able to renew our annual Partnership Dialogue in person after the long gap imposed by COVID.  Of course, our partnership with Sri Lanka has been strong for 70-plus years including through the difficult COVID period where we were pleased to be a supplier of vaccines and equipment, but we come at a particularly difficult and pivotal moment for Sri Lanka, and you are a vital partner of the United States at a key crossroads in the Indo-Pacific and we are eager to support you at this critical moment.

We share a commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and as the Foreign Minister said, to a rules-based, democratic, international order, and today we had a very rich and varied conversation, as the Foreign Minister said, about our shared aspirations for the strongest, most democratic, most prosperous, most just Sri Lanka in partnership with the United States.

In that context we commend the first steps taken in recent weeks and days towards national healing here, towards human rights, towards justice, particularly the amendments passed yesterday to the Prevention of Terror Act and the release of some prisoners.

There is more to do, as you know better than anyone.  And we look forward to working with you as you continue that vital work.

As the Foreign Minister said, the President’s decision to meet on Friday with the Tamil National Alliance is a very important step and one that we welcome.  The notion of setting up a truth-seeking mechanism as other countries with difficult histories have done, particularly taking advantage of the South African experience, is a very good step and we look forward to supporting that process.

We also underscored the importance of the non-governmental sector, journalists, civil society, ending surveillance, ending detention, ending harassment.  I will be pleased to meet with representatives of civil society later today and to hear that the Foreign Minister is also going to meet with those representatives and hear some of their concerns.  We’re also encouraging provincial council elections and a broadening of the democratic space.

But overall I want to particularly commend the Foreign Minister and his partnership with the Justice Minister in moving forward on all of these issues of national healing and justice.  As you take those steps it will open even more space for our partnership, particularly in the security arena, which is already strong in the maritime domain, in the aviation domain.  As you know, we have two US cutters which are now in service in the Sri Lankan Navy and we have another one on the way which is being outfitted now and your sailors and seamen will sail it here in the coming weeks.

And as the Foreign Minister said, our economic relationship is absolutely vital.  It is already strong.  Throughout the COVID period our trade actually grew, which is quite stunning, particularly because Sri Lanka was able to take its strong base in apparel and contribute to the global need for protective equipment and we commend you for that.

What’s absolutely crucial, though, is the courageous step by the government to reach out to the International Monetary Fund for help now with your debt overhang, with your fiscal and monetary needs.  And as you roll up your sleeves and do the hard work to strengthen and heal the economy here, the United States will be your partner and we will strengthen the capacity in our embassy to work with you at this vital moment.

We also want to grow our economic and trade base.  We do well in the apparel sector, as you said.  We want to do more in IT.  We want to do more in green energy.  Our Development Finance Corporation is working with medium and small business, especially women-owned businesses, to give them more opportunity.

And of course we are strong partners on the environment and we are very proud to be Sri Lanka’s partner in protecting our oceans and commend your leadership there, particularly as we look at the mangrove plant as one of the greatest soakers of carbon dioxide, and we’ll see what more we can do there and on the plastics front.

So overall, a very important set of consultations at a vital moment for you, but it’s also a vital moment for the planet and we will speak over lunch about some of the global issues.  But I want to particularly make note of the fact that Russia’s brutal aggression in Ukraine just underscores for all of us the importance of the democracies, strengthening ourselves and standing together in the face of brutal autocratic behavior, coercion, aggression.  Whether it’s coming from Russia, whether it’s coming from other autocracies around the world.

And I think the Foreign Minister said it best, we share a commitment to the rules-based international order. We share a commitment the US and Sri Lanka, to the sanctity of the democratic way of life.  That’s what we’re here to strengthen together.

We look forward not only to coming back to Sri Lanka but also to welcoming you in Washington in the coming months.

Thank you, everyone.

# # # #