Kerry hopes to deepen US relations with Sri Lanka

Kerry, first US secretary of state to visit Sri Lanka in ten years, to show support for new government’s efforts to undertake political reforms

Updated Jul 28, 2015

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday the United States wanted to renew ties with Sri Lanka and announced the start of an annual bilateral dialogue after years of tensions with the island nation's former government.

Kerry praised the “tremendous leadership” of the new government, saying that it acts on its rhetoric. “United States wants to work with Sri Lanka and help in any way we can to shape the future,” he said at the Foreign Ministry.

Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Sri Lanka in early 2005, before fighting intensified between Sri Lanka's government and the Tamil Tiger rebels, who had sought to create an independent state. The military crushed the rebels in an offensive in 2009 that left tens of thousands dead and the two sides trading accusations of war crimes.

Sri Lanka had also tilted heavily towards China during that 10 years, as former president Mahinda Rajapaksa fell out with the West over human rights abuses and allegations of war crimes.

Washington had years of tensions with Rajapaksa, who was unseated by Mathripala Sirisena in a surprise election win in January.

"We intend to broaden and to deepen our partnership with you," Kerry said while announcing the annual dialogue.

Kerry also lauded the new government's efforts to tackle corruption, build democratic institutions and address the wrongs of the past through a process of national reconciliation.

Encouraged by the new atmosphere, Washington helped in postponing for six months the publication of a UN inquiry into possible war crimes by Sri Lanka. The UN human rights chief is among those expected to visit the country soon.

Sirisena appears to be more willing to work with UN and his government has said it wants to conduct the war crimes investigation with UN assistance.

Kerry met with President Maithripala Sirisena and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. He will also meet with the leader of the Tamil National Alliance, Rajavarothiyam Sampanthan, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

He will also discuss the US’ interest in expanding trade and investment with Sri Lanka, a senior State Department official said. Sri Lanka exports roughly $2.5 billion in goods, mostly textiles, to the United States each year.

TRTWorld and agencies