Venerable members of the Maha Sangha, Representatives of the Hindu, Islamic, and Christian denominations, ladies and gentlemen,

In observance of this solemn occasion, together with my colleagues at the Embassy, I extend a warm welcome to all of you who have gathered here today to celebrate this 56th Anniversary of our Independence, and I thank you for your participation and continued support for the activities of this Embassy and the staff of the Embassy.

I would like to begin by introducing my staff who is an integral part of today's events and then move on to the comments that I would like to make. First, I would like to introduce to you Ambassador Janaka Nakkawita, the Deputy Chief of Mission. Ambassador Nakkawita has arrived here in Washington pursuant to a thirty-year career in the Sri Lanka Overseas Service, serving as Ambassador in two posts. I would like to introduce to you Mr. Saman Udagedara, who is the Minister (Commercial) responsible for handling the commercial and the economic activities. You have already met Mr. Ravinatha Aryasinha, the Minister (Information). I would like to introduce a new addition to the configuration of the Embassy in Washington, which also signifies a change in the relationship between our two countries, Sri Lanka and the United States, Brigadier Gen. Rohan Jayasinghe, the Defence Attaché at the Embassy. I would like to then move on as you have already been introduced to Ms. Dhammika Semasinghe the First Secretary, Economic Affairs and somewhere in the audience is Ms. Dayani Mendis who was responsible for organizing today's event and is also the Second Secretary in charge of Political and Consular Affairs. Also somewhere, here in the audience, an integral part of the activities of the Embassy and today's events is Ms. Mercy Kalupahana the Attaché at the Embassy who effectively administers the Embassy across the board. As we go along, I would like to also introduce you to the staff responsible for the consular activities.


I have the pleasure to again extend a warm welcome to you here at the Reagan Building. I thought that we would continue the practice that we started last year of hosting this event at the Ronald Reagan building which stands both for a major player in the global scene from the United States as well one who just happened to celebrate his 93rd birthday and a President that believed in peace through strength, and his famous words "trust but verify" all of which have resonance in our current global environment as well as the issues we face in Sri Lanka. This building is also the International Trade Center. As many of you are probably aware, the US is our largest export market. It takes in two billion dollars worth of Sri Lanka's exports and continues to be a major source of export revenues as well as investment into our economy.


As you would recall when we met last year, shortly after my assuming duties as Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Washington, I committed the Mission in its activities to achieving four major objectives pursuant to the interest and the significant relationship that we enjoy with the United States. I would like to briefly summarize those objectives and present an overview of what we have been able to accomplish as we concluded the 56th year of independence and leave with you some thoughts on what we would be doing in this Embassy and in the Sri Lanka-US relationship going forward into the 57th year of Independence.

Four Strategic Objectives

First, we undertook in this Embassy the objective to deepen and broaden the Sri Lanka-US relationship in all of its manifestations. That is in diplomatic, political, defense and security, economic and cultural terms.

Second, we undertook to elevate economic cooperation between the two countries and to secure greater trade and capital market access for Sri Lanka in the US and a higher level of US investment and technology into the Sri Lankan economy.

Third, I undertook within the three-year plan to elevate the access to World Bank and IMF technical expertise and the financial resources from those two institutions located here in Washington, D.C.

Fourth, and more significantly, I pledged to you a year ago that I would ensure that the Embassy is configured in a service-oriented fashion as we provide our consular services and to upgrade the infrastructure of the Embassy.

Ambassador's Commitment

In undertaking this position a year ago, I undertook this journey along with the support of my staff and a bipartisan consensus in Sri Lanka within the Government on the importance and the significance of the relationship. I pledged a year ago, to put to work all of my resources, my capabilities, and my experience as well my perspectives having been, like many of you, an expatriate Sri Lankan living in the United States before I undertook this mission.

Presentation of Credentials to President Bush

Since we last gathered here one year ago, shortly thereafter, I presented my credentials to President George W. Bush and one thought that I would like to leave with you is what he mentioned to me in the Oval Office that day, he said to me "Mr. Ambassador your country is going to be challenged as it goes forward in the world, you should let your leadership know that we the United States stand behind your leadership, as you go forward and as you get challenged." I said to President Bush that day that is the ultimate support that any country can expect from the United States. That established the benchmark for a journey that we have made with my staff throughout the year 2003.


I wish to avail myself of this opportunity to report to you, the residents of the Sri Lankan community in this area and the friends of Sri Lanka, in my view the shareholders or stakeholders in the Embassy, the extent to which we have performed in each of the four strategic objectives and clusters of activities. Pointing to areas where we have moved along considerably, as well as others where progress has been slow and possibly identify new areas where we would dedicate greater energy.

Global Context

I would like to present this report to you in the following context. As you look around the world the global context is a challenging one for a small country like Sri Lanka, it is indeed a great challenge to position ourselves to benefit from global trends and to be able to cope with the negative fallout from global issues. As we all know, the global war on terrorism, advances in the knowledge economy and the trading and investment system, are all significant developments, some working to our benefit, others having a negative influence on Sri Lanka.

In our national context as you heard in the messages from the President, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, we have begun a journey of reconstructing Sri Lanka within the context of a ceasefire, however imperfect. There has been a substantial ceasefire in place for the past two years and I believe we have benefited from the national consensus that exists with regard to moving forward on that Peace Process and in that peace trajectory.


Broadening and Deepening the Sri Lanka - US relationship

With regard to the first strategic objective of broadening and deepening the Sri Lankan relationship, I am happy to report to you that I think that we have made significant advances for a small country such as ours being able to access the highest levels of the US political leadership, both within the executive branch and the legislative branches of this country.

I would add that we have been benefiting tremendously from President Bush's decision to designate the Deputy Secretary of State Mr. Richard Armitage to be responsible on a daily basis for issues of concern to Sri Lanka and to the United States. I think we have benefited tremendously from that level of commitment and understanding. The United States Government has dedicated significant political, financial and human resources that have been invested in our relationship and through some very difficult and challenging times globally, where Afghanistan, Iraq and other "hot spots" around the world do take the US attention away. But I must say that over the past years we have had a commitment and an implementation of their commitment to keeping Sri Lanka's interest in focus here in Washington.

One of the key elements of this relationship has been, as I have observed over the past year are the values that Sri Lanka and the United States share, both among the people and within the Governments. Shared values of democracy, free enterprise, our position on the global war on terrorism from which we ourselves have suffered for a 20-year period, and the continued global openness of the global trading and economic systems. I would refer you back to the policy statement that Deputy Secretary of State Mr. Armitage made at the Center of Strategic & International Studies last year in February, which articulated the US policy position with regard to Sri Lanka.

With regard to the legislative branch as well, we have been successful in reactivating and restructuring the Sri Lanka Congressional Caucus of the 108th Congress. We have had one congressional delegation visit Sri Lanka, several staff delegations have visited. We have also had a group of Senators and Congressmen who have written to the President of United States in support of our economic agenda here in the US and I will touch on that in a moment.

Finally, I might also add that from within the executive branch the commitment that has been made, has been followed through as Deputy Secretary Armitage said to me, "I gave you my word, and I will keep my word that we will standby Sri Lanka as it goes forward facing the challenges that you face". In that context, in April 2003 Deputy Secretary Armitage co-chaired a meeting with the Japanese, the Norwegians, the World Bank, the IMF, and the EU in preparing for a major donor conference. As you know this was held in June 2003 in Tokyo in mobilizing the resources that need to underpin the economic growth of Sri Lanka, the reconstruction of Sri Lanka and the regaining of the economic prosperity. This will continue when on the 17th of this month, a week from tomorrow, Mr. Armitage will be hosting again a Sri Lanka Donor Co-chairs meeting of Japan, Norway and EU/EC to review progress in the Peace Process and to ensure that the financial resources that have been pledged in that support will be continued to be maintained, even as we go forward facing the challenges that our political leadership in Sri Lanka faces.

I would also like to recognize a new dimension to the Sri Lanka - US relationship that is symbolized by the appointment of a Defense Attaché to the Embassy. That is the increasing defense and security relations between our two countries. We have been fortunate the Sri Lanka Navy has received a Cutter that will provide the offshore patrol capabilities in interdicting arms smuggling and other activities that are ongoing off our eastern shores. As well, the increase in the number of positions that the Sri Lanka military has received in terms of training and other defense related training courses. There are two officers present here with us today who are currently following a course at the National Defense University. There has been a significant increase in the number of slots that are being made available to Sri Lanka and its military services in terms of interaction at the US Pacific Command in Hawaii.

I myself visited the US Pacific Command along with the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri last year to discuss military-to-military relationships as well as increased sourcing and transfer of equipment as we fight our global war against terrorism and maintain the military capabilities of all three armed forces in Sri Lanka. I am happy to report to you that the Commanders of all three services have had exchanges with their US counterparts in Hawaii as well in the case of the Sri Lanka Navy the counterparts in the US Coast Guard and the Chief of Naval Operations. This is a new dimension to our relationship, underscoring the need to maintain a balance as we go forward on the Peace Process with a very realistic view that we do need to maintain our military readiness and our defense capabilities at the same time as we try to resolve a conflict that has plagued us for 20 years.

In this context that the United States last year re-designated the LTTE as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, which has its own legal and other implications globally. That re-designation occurred in October last year for a two-year period. The LTTE has been on the FTO list since 1997, when the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar actively lobbied for that eventuality which did occur during the Clinton Administration, and that consistency of policy is significant. I think in terms of the relationship and its attributes that I have discussed with you, we have benefited tremendously from the policy attention we have received, from the financial and other resources that the United States Government has placed at our disposal in terms of pursuing our dual strategies of regaining peace and economic prosperity.


Economic Cooperation

The second strategic objective that I referred to you is in regard to deepening the economic cooperation between the two countries and increasing market access. Two billion dollars worth of our exports are consumed in the US market; it is the largest export market for Sri Lanka. Of that two billion, a significant proportion is concentrated in the apparel and the garment sector and this is a sector, which is extremely important and sensitive to us, as well to the US and some segments of the US industry.

We set ourselves the objective of moving towards achieving a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, in particular because at the end of 2004 the quota system that has governed the export of apparel ends, and it will be an open free market system that will operate with regard to trade in apparel and garments. This is going to be a difficult challenge for Sri Lanka and our industries as we compete with the likes of China and India, and countries that can compete on volume, and on costs. In that regard, achieving and accomplishing a Free Trade Agreement with the United States is again an objective that has the bipartisan blessing in Sri Lanka and the support of industrial community and the private sector in Sri Lanka. We set this objective and I think we are very close to accomplishing that perhaps in the second quarter of this year, one could be looking for an announcement in that direction.

This is important for us because any adverse impact on our apparel sector with a total of direct and indirect employment of a million people and two billion dollars worth of exports is a significant base of our economic prosperity. We also are at the same time continuing with a process that was begun in 2002, where the US and Sri Lanka entered into a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. We have had three meetings of this Joint Council at the Ministerial level, alternating between Colombo and Washington, progressing our trade agenda, and attracting increased levels of investments to our economy from the US.

We have also the attention of the US Chamber of Commerce, where this past year we have established with the support of Mr. Tom Donohue the President, a US-Sri Lanka Working Group at the Chamber that has been lobbying very actively on our behalf on many issues, including writing to the White House supporting a Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka.

As I mentioned to you in terms of our congressional activities we have succeeded in a group of ten bipartisan Senators led by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Biden (D-DE) who have written to the U.S. President requesting his attention in terms of entering into a Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka. Similarly we have had a group of 25 Members of the House of Representatives, lead by Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL) the Co-Chairman of the Sri Lanka Caucus, who have also written to the President of the United States in support of a Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka. I am citing these as illustrations of how we have progressed in our relationship and how we have approached the broadening of the relationship both in the executive and legislative branches, to meet our economic objectives.


Elevating Access to World Bank and IMF Resources

The third strategic objective that we have set for ourselves was the securing of increased access to the World Bank and the IMF, both their technical assistance and financing. This we have accomplished by working together with Mr. Jayatissa, the Alternative Executive Director from Sri Lanka on the International Monetary Fund Board, and I might just recognize him, he is sitting in the audience here with us today, and he has been an integral part of the activities of this Embassy, given the presence of these two important institutions for our interest in economic development. We are successfully communicating with the board and senior management of both of these institutions.

We have a one billion dollar commitment from the World Bank for four years to support our economic development and economic re-growth in Sri Lanka and the IMF has made funding available through its Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility. The Embassy and Mr. Jayatissa's office lobbied the IMF for increased resources to support poverty reduction in Sri Lanka where we were able move forward from 75% of the IMF quota to a 100% of what we were eligible for from the IMF, an increase of US$.140 million in financial resources. Again, I am citing these to you just as examples of what we have accomplished in the past year, along with the team that I have at the Embassy as well as Mr. Jayatissa at the IMF. Many of you in this audience have also contributed in many ways to these efforts and I would not want to exclude the effort of the community as well.


Consular Services and Community Outreach

Finally, let me come to the fourth objective that I established when I took this position. As a former member of the expatriate community and having had many interactions with the Embassy and its Staff for over the years that I have lived here, I set for myself the objective of increasing the quality, timeliness and the reliability of the Consular services of the Embassy. We have been making progress and we would like to make more progress.

Before I get into that in detail I would like to introduce to you, the Consular Team at the Embassy, Ms. Dayani Mendis, who has overall responsibility, I have already introduced, but the rest of that team is Mrs. Hemali Rajapakshe who is responsible for the Consular Section, Mr. Mahinda De Silva and Mrs. Sagarika Navaratne who is somewhere in the audience is the third member of the important Consular Section in the Embassy. I have been particularly gratified to have it increasingly acknowledged that today our Embassy in Washington is responsive in the consular functions and also proactive in engaging with pragmatic programs of activity that are of benefit to Sri Lanka.

Consular Services

We have undertaken several steps to accomplish this situation. One, was to upgrade the service quality, that is to provide timely, accurate, and customer service orientated information to our community. We have harmonized the delivery of consular services from the Washington Embassy as well as the Consulate General in Los Angeles and the New York Consulate. We have upgraded the services of the Honorary Consuls. As you, all may know we have Honorary Consuls in Hawaii, Arizona, Georgia, New Jersey/Connecticut, New Mexico, and Louisiana. I have just received approval for two more Honorary Consuls, one in Chicago and one in New Hampshire, responsible for the Mid West and the New England States. The Honorary Consuls are a mix of US citizens and expatriate Sri Lankans. They have been performing this service at their own expense.

We have succeeded in providing 24 hours a day and 7 days a week consular access by e-mail, through the website, the telephone, fax, and a Duty Officer who is available 24/7 through an emergency telephone number that is available on the website as well as the Embassy telephone system. We have also moved all the consular forms and instructions/information to the web ( and these are readily accessible and available. So therefore, I believe we have set in place this past year the key elements to provide the expatriate Sri Lankan community in the 50 States with a high quality and honorable service, which is one of the major objectives of an Embassy in any country.

Community Outreach

The second element of what I have striven to accomplish has to do with the community outreach and to attempt to reach out to the community and leverage their capability and their capital in promoting economic development in Sri Lanka. We have traveled, between my self and my staff, to eight states this past year (Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Florida, New York, Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Hawaii) and in each of these States; we have made it a point to meet with the Sri Lankan community and to make two requests of them. One has to do with leveraging and contributing their skills and their capital to the prosperity of Sri Lanka. Two, to enable us to leverage their presence in the respective States in terms of reaching out to their Congressmen and Senators in districts that they live in. This has been a very helpful process that we have begun and we would like to build upon it further.

In regard to specific projects that we have undertaken with the expatriate community here, I would like to point out two examples.

One was generated by an individual, Dr. Barry Fernando in Phoenix, Arizona, where he contributed his private collection of Buddhist artifacts and art to the Phoenix Art Museum that displayed the rich Buddhist culture and heritage that we have in our country to an American audience. That was a wonderful event and we are attempting to try to take it to Los Angeles, Chicago and bring it to Washington sometime in the near future.

The second project that we were involved in that I undertook when I took office had to do with de-mining. As you, all may be aware there are up to a million landmines sown in the North and the East of Sri Lanka over the 20 years of the conflict. This is a significant barrier to resettling people and bringing normalcy to the North and East. Together with the Marshall Legacy Institute and the Sri Lanka Association of Washington DC, we have successfully funded six mine-sniffing dogs to be trained and deployed in the North and East of Sri Lanka to begin the process of identifying mines that could be cleared. We raised $.125,000 from the corporate community, the Sri Lankan expatriate community as well as $.300,000 in matching grants from the US State Department to complete the funding of what they call a 'six pack' of canines to go to Sri Lanka and help us rid parts of the North and the East of the challenge that we have with these mines and the inability to resettle people into these areas.


The final area I like to touch upon has to do with access to the Embassy. I have introduced you to my staff. The names, e-mail addresses and contact numbers all are available 24/7. We are here to provide a service to all of you; we are here to work with you to pursue the interests of Sri Lanka and to bring about greater prosperity to the extent that all of you would like to participate in that journey.


The final area we have worked on also has to do with the infrastructure of the Chancery and the Residence. As I reported to you last year, we began the process of beginning the renovation of the 30th Street Residence, which was in need of renovation after 54 years. Having gone through a process of government approvals and clearances, we now are entering the first phase of scoping out the extent of renovation that has to occur, scoping the cost and developing a timetable to undertake the work.


We have also upgraded our electronic system and our telecommunication system at the Embassy in terms of our consular activities as well as our outreach activities. We will also look toward increasing an opportunity for Sri Lankan students here in the United States to participate in an internship program. This is one idea that I did touch upon last year, which did not get to conclusion. Finally, we have set up the ideas line we have set up the both telephonically and as well as by e-mail and I would very much appreciate any suggestions or thoughts that you have, as we go forward.


Looking to the future, I think, as you all know the Sri Lanka-US relationship is something that needs to be worked on a daily basis and we at the Embassy are here working on it. In the United States, this is an election year and there are many distractions in the foreign policy field for the United States. Therefore, my primary objective on behalf of our countrymen and women and the Government is to sustain the level of interests and attention of the Sri Lankan Government in support of our priorities at home.

Secondly, to have the announcement of a Free Trade Agreement made sometime in the second quarter of this year and to continue to work with Mr. Jayatissa and the colleagues at the World Bank and the IMF to increase a level of assistance to Sri Lanka. Finally, we could do better in our consular services and in our community outreach and we will continue to do that and welcome your ideas.

Once again, I thank you for your participation today and thank you for sitting through this report to you and I trust that this has been helpful and beneficial. I would be happy to take any questions you may have, before we start the cultural program.

Thank you.


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