Full transcript of interview with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:
Indeewari Amuwatte:Thank you for your time here with us Secretary Pompeo. Your visit here is termed crucial, seen as a rare one, and peculiar given the timing of the visit. What’s so important that you had to communicate at this juncture?
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:Thanks for giving me the chance to be with you. It’s been wonderful to be here in Colombo. I’m in this region a lot, and I planned to come here earlier but the world just got in the way, and I had to delay it a bit so I managed to get here now. I’m thrilled to be here. It’s an important time in the history of the region. Great democracies like the one that we have here in Sri Lanka, and the one we have in the United States have a shared vision on how life ought to operate, there ought to be sovereign nations and free people who get the chance to live the lives they want, and the U.S. is here to share that message. The United States stands ready to do all that we can to recognise Sri Lanka’s sovereignty but to make sure that the people of Sri Lanka understand that the US is a friend and a partner in a democracy with a shared vision for how the world ought to operate.
Indeewari Amuwatte:How would you term future relations of Sri Lanka and the United States will be given this crucial visit in Sri Lanka and the comment made by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry for enhanced relations with the US?
Secretary Pompeo:There are many opportunities and many things we can do. We talked a lot of private businesses investing here. Not only those who are here today investing more, but new opportunities in agricultural or renewable energy and technology, and lots of opportunities for the Sri Lankan people. Sri Lanka has to do its part, it’s got to be welcoming, have the rule of law and transparency so that American investors will want to come and invest here. But I’m confident that we will deliver on that, and when we do it will be good for American companies that will come here but it will be really good for the Sri Lankan people. There will be jobs and opportunities, and wealth creation, and all the things that democracies and the private sector can do in a way that authoritarian regimes simply can’t.
Indeewari Amuwatte:Also Mr. Secretary, recent comments by Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson urging Sri Lankan to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence for long term prosperity as Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. What exactly are these difficult decisions or choices that the US expects Sri Lanka to take?
Secretary Pompeo:I know precisely the things that Sri Lanka needs to do but more importantly the Sri Lankan people know, and the Sri Lankan leadership. This isn’t about America imposing its vision on Sri Lanka, quite the opposite. It is Sri Lanka sharing with America the things we can do to make life better for the Sri Lankan people here. Those are the choices we hope Sri Lanka’s government makes. When it does there will be opportunity, there will be good partnerships, not only with the United States but with the other democracies in the region. I travelled from India, I will travel from here today to the Maldives, I’ve been in Asia and South East Asia a great deal in my time as Secretary of State, whether it be South Korea, Australia or Japan. These democracies have the opportunity to work together, so I’m confident that Sri Lanka will want to be part of that. Part of what prospectively looks like real opportunity and real sovereignty. Those are the things that will make life better for the Sri Lankan people, not a history where you have other countries show up and put huge debt on the country and impose huge burdens on the country. And when they come here, they don’t show up with the private sector and don’t hire Sri Lankans. The democratic countries including the United States have a very different vision.
The meetings today give me real hope that we will be able to close together on that shared vision.
Indeewari Amuwatte:Does this mean the US will respect Sri Lanka’s wishes to remain a neutral country and not be entangled in a geopolitical power play?
Secretary Pompeo:It’s about choices. Every country makes choices. The choices will be: do you want democracy and freedom? I’m confident that the Sri Lankan government does want exactly that. When you choose those things, you end up with different kinds of partners. You end up with partners who respect Sri Lanka’s decision-making a sovereign entity, and when there needs to be security cooperation, we provided two coast guard cutters so the two can do good work on countering narcotics, and we show up here and ensure that the terror risk is reduced inside of Sri Lanka. These are the kind of things that democracies work on together. We have a shared vision and a shared goal, and I am very confident that the Sri Lankan people will end up in a place that ends up with a very close and very dynamic, powerful partnership that benefits both of our two countries.
Indeewari Amuwatte:In terms of the MCC agreement, Sri Lanka missed the deadlines twice. The United States is still talking about it. What will happen if it is politically challenging for the Sri Lankan government to enter into the MCC agreement?
Secretary Pompeo:It’s one of many things that’s being proffered. If it doesn’t make sense for Sri Lanka, then Sri Lankans will choose not to accept that. The relationships, the strengths, the depths, and complexity of our relationship far exceeds any one transaction and one opportunity. There will be plenty. We will work closely on them alongside the Sri Lankan government.
Indeewari Amuwatte:Matters pertaining to accountability; you mentioned this during your joint press briefing. How will the United States work with Sri Lanka in order for Sri Lanka to work on its accountability commitments and also about Army Chief Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva who is banned from the United States. Have these come under discussion?
Secretary Pompeo:We talked about all of this today. Look we have a set of legal requirements in the United States and we apply them even handedly. We try to get the facts right, and we do that in every case. I talked with the President about this, and I talked to the Foreign Minister too. I’m confident that the Sri Lankan people want accountability and justice, and that these leaders are intent on delivering. We will help where we can. Ultimately, we can provide some technical assistance, we can work with them in international fora to deliver on these ideas of reconciliation and accountability. But ultimately it will be the Sri Lankan leadership and the Sri Lankan people who will have to work on this. It’s important, we hope your country gets this right. It’s the right thing to make sure that part of Sri Lanka’s history is handled in a way that is appropriate and recognises what really transpired, but with an eye towards what is ahead – all the good things that can happen in the future.
Indeewari Amuwatte:One last question Secretary Pompeo. China is playing an increased role in Sri Lanka, India too, and the US offer SOFA and MCC. What else is on the table?
Secretary Pompeo:What America offers almost always is companies and private investment, partnerships and friendship. That’s how we roll in the United states. We won’t show up with state sponsored enterprises. We won’t show up with debt packages that a country can’t possibly repay. We won’t attempt to use that debt to extort actions by the government. We want what the Sri Lankan people want – a chance to thrive, a chance to have real opportunities, a chance to travel around the world, and make a better life for each of them and for their families. Those are two very different models. One is for democracy and freedom, the other is a tyrannical authoritarian model. We’re convinced that the Sri Lankan people will make the right choices for themselves, and as that has been for a very long time. Your foreign minister reminded me of it being the oldest democracy in Asia. I’m confident that that tradition will be important and powerful and will mean an increasingly good relationship between the United States and Sri Lanka.
Indeewari Amuwatte:Thank you very much for your time.
Secretary Pompeo:Thank you ma’am. Thanks for having me on.