REMARKS BY RICHARD L. ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE
AT CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES ON
"SRI LANKA: PROSPECTS FOR PEACE" - 14 FEBRUARY 2003
also delighted to be with all of you here today in a such a reflective
setting. You know, one of the things that is most, sort of, uncomfortable
and unpleasant about government service is there is no time for
reflection. You rarely have the luxury of sitting back and actually
thinking about something. And I am delighted to have a few minutes
Thank you, Ambassador Schaffer [Director, Center for Strategic
and International Studies South Asia Program]. As a diplomat
and a scholar, you are a role model. Your actions and your
efforts and your care and your devotion to all things South
Asia are well known, and well respected. And I am delighted
also to see here the Ambassador [Subasinghe, Ambassador
of Sri Lanka to the United States]. It seems as though it
was just last month that you were visiting us to present
your credentials. Come to think of it, it was only a month
ago. It looks like you're settling in pretty well.
I have to tell you, Tezi [Schaffer], of course I would
come here for this occasion. I wouldn't miss it. Twenty
years, as far as I'm concerned, between my visits to Sri
Lanka, was too long. And I have a feeling it won't be that
long again.I suspect I will be out there again in the not
too distant future.I am
The last couple of months -- and indeed weeks - have been a busy
time of high-stakes diplomacy for our Department of State. Secretary
[of State Colin] Powell and I have been to Capitol Hill six times
together in the last two weeks - three testimonies apiece. Of
course, we've been talking about such things as Iraq and its biological
and chemical weapons and its nuclear intentions; about North Korea's
self-inflicted deprivation and desperation, as millions of people
are in danger of starving to death from mismanagement and bad
luck; and about the high risk of terrorist attacks over this next
week. But we've also been talking about the horrible terrorist
bombing in downtown Bogota over the last weekend and the implications
for the counter-narcotics efforts in the region, as well as the
rockets fired at international forces in Kabul on Monday, which
narrowly missed the visiting Defense Minister of Germany. It certainly
did underscore the importance of our reconstruction efforts in
that blighted land.
Given these priorities, I think it is important to start today's
discussion on Sri Lanka with a baseline question: why should the
United States invest significant attention and resources to Sri
Lanka, especially at a time when we have such overwhelming competing
interests? Should the United States play a role in this peace
Now, I believe the right answer is that the United States should
play a role. And there are many credible explanations as to why.
There is the pull of opportunity, of ending years of death and
years of destruction and bolstering a multiethnic democracy. In
the more direct bilateral sense, Sri Lanka is already a solid
exporter to the United States and has the potential with peace
and the right reforms to become a significant trade partner. And
then there is the push of danger. As we have found out far too
often, terror and human misery generally will not ebb away on
their own or stay neatly within borders if we look at them as
someone else's problem.
I have no doubt that the many experts Tezi [Schaffer] has assembled
in this audience could provide more answers to my baseline questions.
And when taken together, these answers may even add up to a compelling
justification. But the problem is that these answers do not really
constitute a clear strategic impetus for the United States or
for other nations outside of Sri Lanka's immediate neighborhood,
particularly in a time of war and economic uncertainty. It would
be tough to make a truly convincing case by sticking to the terms
of strict self-interest.
For me, the bottom line in this instance is simple. The United
States should be playing a role, in concert with other nations,
committing our human and financial resources to settling this
conflict because it can be done. And because it's the right thing
to do. Because the parties to the conflict appear to be ready
to reach a resolution, more so than at any other time in the past
twenty years. And because it may well be that it is a resolution
that can only be reached with the help of multilateral resources,
both moral and material.
Indeed, this may be a key moment, when an infusion of such international
support can add momentum to the peace process, helping to stop
20 years of abject human suffering and to smooth the ripples of
grief and terror that have spread from this tiny island nation
through the region and even around the world. This may be the
moment when international support can help to spring this country
into prominence as a recovering victim of conflict, terrorism,
and human rights abuses, but also as a respected participant in
the global community. And while I wouldn't want to oversell Sri
Lanka as a model -- this brew of caste, class, religion and race
has its own unique flavor -- perhaps this is a nation with lessons
to offer the world about how to move from despair to hope, from
intractable conflict to workable concord, and, indeed, about how
the international community can engage and support such conflict
So, with your permission, I'll share with you a few thoughts
about the direction I see Sri Lanka heading in, and the more promising
developments as well as the more problematic challenges, and how
I believe the United States and the international community can
most usefully participate.
Sadly, I have had the chance to see the costs of war up close.
Last summer, I traveled to the Jaffna Peninsula. We first flew
over the area in a helicopter and saw below us a blasted landscape,
pockmarked with thousands of bomb craters and shell craters. For
me, that view reminded me strongly of my time in the service in
Vietnam. I really don't think I've seen anything quite like it
since. And I'm talking both about the physical devastation and
the sense of futility that was unmistakable on the ground.
We ventured into one of the cities that had been largely destroyed,
where people were nonetheless starting to return, trying to reclaim
lives many may have hardly remembered. Today, some 300,000 internally
displaced people have returned to the northern and eastern parts
of the country, even though these areas lack sanitation, clean
water, and other basic amenities. This is, to some extent, a demonstration
of confidence in the current cease-fire, but it also confirms
something else I saw when I was there. We spoke with a cross-section
of Tamil society in the area and the mixture of hope and wariness
in their words was an unmistakable reminder that in Jaffna, and
across Sri Lanka, a whole generation has grown up knowing little
other than war, but is now ready for a change.
It was clear to me at the time that the solution had to start
there, in the shattered people and bombed-out villages, in the
universal longing for a better life. Because while it is clearly
taking a firm decision from the parties to this fight to be partners
and to act in the interests of peace, it is also going to take
a commitment from all the people of Sri Lanka -- Muslims and Buddhists,
Christians and Hindus, Sinhalese and Tamils -- from all parts
of the country, if agreements made around the negotiating table
are going to take hold on the ground.
Now, the challenge for the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE
is going to be taking that universal longing and that national
commitment and giving people tangible signs of progress and a
way to participate in the process. I think they have done a good
job to date. First, they have set a powerful foundation. Keeping
to the cease-fire for the past year has, as I noted, allowed the
public to reach a basic level of confidence. And it is critical
that both parties continue to honor and keep this cease-fire.
From my point of view, a loss of confidence at this point would
be extraordinarily devastating.
December was also a watershed. The negotiators issued a common
statement that called for "internal self-determination based
on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka," which
created a shared vision for the future of the state, and dealt
with many disagreements that destroyed past efforts at a negotiated
solution. And in this latest round of talks, which just concluded
last week in Berlin, the negotiators turned to concrete issues
of humanitarian relief and human rights, including the LTTE's
pledge to end child recruitment.
To me, this is all very encouraging. Indeed, two years ago, no
one would have believed so much could happen so quickly. But to
some extent, the steps taken to date have been the easy ones.
And so the negotiations have entered a critical stage, a point
at which both sides will have to show the courage to stay the
course as they address more difficult issues and make real compromises.
Although the apprehension of an arms-laden trawler during the
last round of negotiations and the self immolation by its LTTE
crew were most remarkable for failing to derail peace talks, it
also called into question the LTTE's commitment to the process.
The LTTE is going to have to take a number of difficult steps
to demonstrate that it remains committed to a political solution.
The Tigers need to honor the restrictions and conditions that
the cease-fire -- and future negotiations -- set on their arms
supply. Logically, down the road, this is going to include disarmament
issues themselves. Internal self-determination, within the framework
of one Sri Lanka, is not going to be consistent with separate
armies and navies for different parts of the country. For that
matter, the LTTE has often pledged to stop the recruitment of
child soldiers, but this time, they will have to prove they can
carry through and will carry through on the pledge. The LTTE will
also have to respect the rights of Muslims and Sinhalese living
in areas under its control. And if the Tigers really want to join
Sri Lanka's democratic society on a federal basis, they will also
have to accept pluralism within the Tamil community.
Finally, the United States government is encouraged by the vision
of the LTTE as a genuine political entity. But for that to happen,
we believe the LTTE must publicly and unequivocally renounce terrorism
and prove that its days of violence are over. The US will never
accept the tactics of terror, regardless of any legitimate Tamil
aspirations. But if the LTTE can move beyond the terror tactics
of the past and make a convincing case through its conduct and
its actual actions that it is committed to a political solution
and to peace, the United States will certainly consider removing
the LTTE from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, as
well as any other terrorism-related designations.
At the same time, the Government of Sri Lanka must institute
reforms that address the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people.
This means allowing Tamils the simple right to stay in their own
homes and to pursue a living, such as fishing in coastal waters,
without prejudice or harassment. But it also means protecting
the full range of human rights for all the people of Sri Lanka.
In particular, the burden will be on the government, military
and civilian officials alike, to prove that they can accord these
rights to residents of the northern and the eastern parts of the
nation, including the refugees returning to the area. And that
they will hold officials accountable for their conduct.
The government obviously also must tackle key economic reforms.
Because ultimately, the people of Sri Lanka, not just Tamils but
also the Muslim and Sinhalese communities, particularly in the
south, will judge the efficacy of the peace process by how it
affects their livelihood.
Reaching this vision of prosperity will require a strong and
sustained commitment from the Government of Sri Lanka. We should
all give due credit to President Kumaratunga.
She knew this was the only answer for her country long ago. And
her peace plan of 1995 was an important precursor to the progress
we see now. Of course today, we owe much of that progress to the
Government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who continues
to take bold steps in the direction of peace. But it is clear
that if Sri Lanka is to continue moving forward, the Government
must move together as one. No individual, no single political
party can carry this burden alone. This must be a concerted effort
by the President, the Prime Minister, and the parties.
There are those in Sri Lanka who remain skeptical, and truthfully,
many come to their doubts honestly. The President, for one, is
understandably cautious. But she also has unusual moral authority
when it comes to one of the most difficult challenges facing both
the government and the LTTE. As the head of state and inheritor
of a powerful political dynasty, she is in a unique position to
speak on behalf of everyone who serves or who has served in the
government and to ask that those who committed atrocities in the
past be forgiven. But she is also a victim of this conflict. She
has not only lost loved ones to the violence but will personally
bear the scars for the rest of her life. And so her forgiveness
of those who have caused her pain is equally important.
In such a close community, every one of the 65,000 lives lost
in the last two decades is a burden of memory the whole society
will have to carry. Indeed, perhaps it is too much to ask for
forgiveness, but the people of Sri Lanka must somehow find a way
to move forward. This may be the most significant challenge. It
will require a concept of justice that falls somewhere between
retribution and impunity, which will be absolutely necessary if
the country is to reconcile with the past and reclaim the future.
I believe President Kumaratunga must play a spiritually significant
part in this search for truth and for reconciliation.
These are tremendous challenges. But these are also largely questions
of the political will of the parties involved, something that
must come largely from within Sri Lanka. The Government of Norway
does deserve tremendous credit for catalyzing this political will
and ushering the parties to the negotiating table. And the Norwegians
deserve even more credit for going one step further.
Today, Sri Lanka has pressing humanitarian needs, as well as
longer-term reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reintegration
needs. Consider, for example, that there are an estimated 700,000
landmines in the country, and that alone is a nearly insurmountable
challenge. Yet this is precisely where the government and the
LTTE need to show progress and ways for ordinary people to participate.
And they have to do this right away if the peace process is to
attract the kind of public backing it requires. But the scale
and scope of these needs are simply beyond Sri Lanka's means in
the near term. And that is one reason international support is
so absolutely critical at this time.
In November, Norway hosted a conference to orchestrate this international
support, and where the Norwegians led and where they lead, we,
the United States, are delighted to follow.
I was pleased to attend on behalf of the United States and to
pledge $8 million in support of programs that meet immediate humanitarian
needs, as well as a little over $1 million for de-mining. In June,
it is my intention to return for the follow-on meeting of donors,
which Japan has graciously agreed to host. And at that time, I
believe, with a certain assurance, that I will be able to announce
significant further assistance to Sri Lanka for both humanitarian
and economic aid.
Of course, such international involvement will come at a cost
for Sri Lanka. The price tag for sustaining such interest will
be progress -- a clear demonstration that all parties to the negotiations
have the determination to see this through. As I said at the outset,
the fundamental attraction for this outpouring of international
interest and certainly for my nation, is that we are not dealing
in fantasy but firmly in the art of the possible. By June, both
the government, all elements of the government, and the LTTE will
need to have made some hard choices and compromises that demonstrate
the political will to proceed if they want to meet their ambitions
for international support.
Of course, Sri Lanka is hardly the only nation that struggles
in the shadow of looming ethnic, racial and religious divides.
From Kosovo to Kabul, there are places all over the world that
are engaged in a similar fight, many of which have far less going
for them in terms of physical infrastructure, in terms of human
resources, and in terms of the institutions of democracy. And
as Ambassador Schaffer recently wrote, there are other nations,
from Northern Ireland to South Africa, that have already dealt
with such challenges with some measure of success. From my point
of view, and from my government's point of view, it is reasonable
to hope that Sri Lanka will not only be able to add to the legacy
of optimism of such past success but will also be able to build
a model for peace and prosperity in a multifaceted society.
Tezi [Schaffer], thank you so much. Mr. Ambassador [Subasinghe],