A MATTER OF DIPLOMACY

Since the two UN resolutions were brought against Sri Lanka in Geneva, some Sri Lankans including the Diaspora have been trying to find scapegoats for the failure to defeat these resolutions. It may be well to remember they are UN RESOLUTIONS voted on by MANY COUNTRIES.

Looking at the incessant verbal attacks on Sri Lanka by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and the recent threatening rhetoric of Nick Clegg in the House of Commons, any difficulty between the US and Sri Lanka pales by comparison. We should not blame the Sri Lankan diplomats in these countries for these occurrences.

I am a Sri Lankan (and a naturalized US citizen) living in the US for over 40 years with no political affiliation or a vote in Sri Lanka. I have personally known many of our ambassadors who have served in the US with distinction. It is imperative that our compatriots understand the complexity of the job and appreciate the service they render to the nation.

Untruths, half-truths and innuendos do not help the expat community unite against the attacks by the Pro-LTTE Diaspora. So, in my humble role of a Sri Lankan who supports American values of hard work, loyalty and service to one’s country, I feel it is my duty to share my views on the work done in Washington.

From the time of his appointment at the height of the conflict, Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya has worked tirelessly to create an environment of goodwill and openness, hospitality, and warmth in all his dealings with US officials, the American public, and his own countrymen and women. He and his hard working staff have had to deal with constant disruptions and a never-ending stream of negative publicity inflicted by the Pro-LTTE Diaspora.

In my view, none of the ambassadors in the past 40 years, has had to deal with the problems that the current ambassador has endured due to the conclusion of hostilities in Sri Lanka and its aftermath, and none has had to defend the policies of the Government in a climate of such harshness and hostility dispensed by the Pro-LTTE Diaspora.

Relentless in their pursuit of a separate Eelam State, this group continues to spend millions on lobbyists and lawyers that the GOSL can never match. It is important to note the power of lobbyists in the US. A case in point is the recent failure to pass background checks in the Gun Control Bill in Congress. Even though 90% of the American public wanted background checks, the powerful NRA lobbyists managed to convince a large number in Congress to vote against it.

Ambassador Wickramasuriya, from the beginning organized numerous meetings and events, to present his government’s plans for reconciliation after a long-standing conflict. One such event was a gathering of about 100 Sri Lankan American professionals from across the US that met with members of Congress and their aides in a series of one-on-one meetings on Capitol Hill. It was a dynamic project, which proved to be very successful. The US officials were glad to receive another point of view of the conflict other than the propaganda of the Pro-LTTE elements. I have never seen such an effective exercise in public diplomacy. It was certainly the first time such an event was held by the Washington Embassy.

When the Foreign Minister came to meet the US Secretary of State in Washington, Ambassador Wickramasuriya and his staff arranged several meetings with congressional leaders, and business and civic leaders. Among the highlights of the trip was an eloquent speech that the Minister delivered at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Relations to an audience of academics and US officials.

Recently, the Ambassador was instrumental in educating and enlightening the ranking member of the US Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Faleomavaega who addressed Congress about the unfair treatment of Sri Lanka. He continues to meet lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to update them on the real situation in Sri Lanka. He provides them with correct information to counteract the distorted rhetoric of the Pro-LTTE Diaspora.

The Ambassador has addressed groups of young American professionals, college students, and entrepreneurs interested in investing in Sri Lanka. He has promoted tourism, orchestrated business forums between the two countries, and organized numerous trade delegations to Sri Lanka. He has set in motion, various bilateral initiatives between the US and Sri Lanka.

Last year, Ambassador Wickramasuriya and his staff worked diligently to substantiate Sri Lanka’s efforts on worker rights issues in response to an AFL-CIO petition to the USTR alleging shortcomings in Sri Lanka’s recognition of worker rights. Due to their hard work, Sri Lanka retains its status as a GSP beneficiary country.

The Ambassador’s untiring effort to bring together all ethnic, and religious communities of Sri Lankan Americans is unparalleled. He and his colleagues continue to focus on unity and reconciliation efforts and are inclusive in all their dealings with the Diaspora. All religious holidays—Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim–are celebrated at the Embassy. All ethnic groups participate in cultural events. For the past few years, Independence Day celebrations have drawn more than a thousand Sri Lankans of all ethnicities and religious denominations.

These are only a few examples of the good work done here. Diplomacy is alive and well in Washington!

Chandra Fernando, Educational Consultant, USA

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