Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, U.S. Under Secretary of State:
I want to thank you all for coming here this evening. I am delighted to
be in Sri Lanka and only regret that my visit isn't much longer. As I've
told some of you, I'm in the region to follow up on President Clinton's
successful visit to the subcontinent in March. This is the final stop in my
three-country visit to South Asia.
In India, I talked with ministers and with senior officials in a
structured dialogue between the two foreign ministries on bilateral matters
and on Asian security. In New Delhi, in that dialogue, we discussed our
bilateral relationship, including other ways we hope to build our relations
for the future, as well as questions of security, including
nonproliferation, Kashmir, and other regional questions, including our
respective approaches -- that is, India's and the United States'-- to Sri
In Pakistan, I had a thorough and comprehensive series of discussions
with General Musharraf and other officials, both military and civilian, on a
wide number of questions, again including nonproliferation, Afghanistan,
Kashmir, our cooperation on counter-narcotics and on terrorism. We also
discussed Pakistan's economic policies and recent developments in returning
the country to democratic governance.Here, I had good discussions with
President Kumaratunga, government officials including ministers, the leader
of the opposition, and the Foreign Minister on a wide range of bilateral and
regional topics. I am happy to report our bilateral relationship is
positive. The U.S. urged the government and the opposition to continue their
bipartisan efforts to find a political solution to the ethnic conflict.
In Washington, we are concerned about the stories we have heard about
the fighting that is going on in Jaffna and its effect on civilians. We
are concerned about the real potential for humanitarian crisis there.
Obviously, we discussed the situation with the government and their
plans for dealing with it.
The U.S. has long supported the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
As I have said in both India and Pakistan, the U.S. does not envision or
support the establishment of another independent state on this island,
nor do we believe other members of the international community would
support it. We continue to urge all parties to the conflict to
negotiate a peaceful resolution of this country's ethnic conflict.
To that end, we also support the recent efforts by the Norwegian
facilitate negotiations between the government and the LTTE.
Even in this time of difficulty on the battlefield, we urged the
government to remember that it is important in a
democracy like Sri Lanka:
bipartisan cooperation and creating an inclusive society through
respect for human
free and fair elections, and
recognizing the special military situation and also
strides Sri Lanka has made in protecting human rights in recent years,
we emphasized the importance of avoiding restrictions on civil liberties
that could undermine
Lanka's democratic institutions. Sri Lanka has a
long and positive tradition of press freedom, and we hope that that
particular institution's independence continues to be unfettered
accordance with that tradition.
Now, I welcome your questions.
Q: Mr. Gamini Weerakoon, Ed., Daily Island:
-unintelligible- but what is there positive that you can do, because
security demands an immediate support to Sri Lanka's military effort. What
is - will you be able to do that?
US Under Secretary of State Pickering:
First and foremost, because the idea of dispelling a doubt in public
about this particular issue -- and I did it two days ago or three days ago
in New Delhi with the Indian Foreign Secretary, we did it side by side --is,
I hope, a serious and clear message
to the people who advocate splitting the island, creating another
independent state on the island.
Secondly, we believe it is extremely important to do all that we can to
support a negotiating process, one that doesn't exist now, to help to try to
create it. In this particular instance,
the Norwegian government has been working very quietly and diplomatically
for a long period of time. And so my government, and I believe the
Indian government as well, believes that it is important that we signal
publicly our support for that process as a way of giving it backing.
Finally, I said tonight something I haven't said before but which I
fully believe in:
that I don't believe there is any international support that I can find
for a new separate state of Eelam here in this island. So I think
that while it is easy to dismiss diplomatic statements by governments as
not having an effect, we are beginning to see, in fact, that it does
have an effect.
One thing, you might remember that two years ago, as
part of American national legislation which requires that we review
foreign non-governmental organizations that have committed terrorist acts
and, if a certain threshold of action has been met on the part of those
organizations, that we make a public legal declaration of a finding of that
particular organization as a foreign terrorist organization.
The LTTE has been found to be such an organization. That means they are
under restrictions in the United States, restrictions with respect to
raising money, for example. So those actions have a role and a place.
The question, obviously, is primarily one for the government of Sri
Lanka, and it is the government of Sri Lanka that has to deal with the
military effects of the insurgency. And the government of Sri Lanka, I
has access to the
world arms market, so it is in a position itself to acquire what it
believes it needs in order to carry forward with its efforts to deal with
the military part of the equation.
But we don't believe, and I have said this on a number of occasions,
that there is a military solution on either side to the question. We
frankly believe that the best thing that could happen would be to see
this process ended through a process of
direct negotiation between the parties concerned as rapidly as possible.
And while I have been here, I have had many discussions with many
individuals about the need for the government to offer a
broad opportunity for autonomy to the Tamils in the North and East of the
island as a way to deal with what are clearly historic ethnic problems
and differences and
to recognize the root
cause and the deep damage over the years that has been done to that segment
of the population. But as well, to take into account that any solution
to that problem, the interests, the problems, and indeed the aspirations of
both sides have to be taken into account as much as possible.
Q: Mr. Dilip Ganguly, Associated Press Colombo Bureau
Chief: In what way can the U.S. contribute in forcing both the
parties, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government, to come to the table and
talk? It's good to say that they should talk, everyone is saying they should
talk, Sri Lanka says they're willing to talk. Which way are you going to
contribute in making the LTTE come to talk?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I have just run over a
whole series of steps that we are able to take. Now you said, "to force the
government and the LTTE to come to the table" or to force them to initiate
negotiations. You have a government and
armed organization, one that we consider terrorist. Those particular
organizations are not easily susceptible, if I could put it this way, to the
use of force. My government doesn't invade countries to force people to go
to conference tables.
Q: Mr. Dilip Ganguly, Associated Press Colombo Bureau
Chief: - I will change the wording. I will say "initiate" the
Government and the LTTE to talk.
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: No, but I mean -- one of
the reasons I have taken advantage of a long-planned trip to come here is to
take advantage of the opportunity both to talk to the government and to
provide our assessments and analysis of the situation and to share theirs.
I have heard today on many occasions that the government wants to go to
the table, is anxious to go to the table. It feels it's important to go to
the table. So
on the government side -- with whom we have relations, close and friendly
relations -- I believe that that's an established fact.
The United States does not have relations with the LTTE. The United
States, because of the actions it has taken, is obviously, I think, not in
contact with the LTTE, but I can send messages to them through your good
offices, in effect, by telling them exactly what we think: that they should
enter into negotiations as rapidly as possible. So, that's the best sort of
anatomy I can give you of the situation and what we think we can do as a
All efforts of diplomacy, persuasion plays an important and significant
role, and sometimes we don't realize we can be persuasive until we have a
longer term look at what the results might be.
Q: Ms. Suzy Price, BBC Correspondent: With the
taking quite a large amount of land in Jaffna at the moment, what way
could you persuade the Tigers it would be to their advantage to begin talks?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering:
think that one way is to make it clear that we and others who assess the
situation do not see a military resolution to this conflict. And I think
that the long and sad and very difficult and
damaging history of this conflict should, in its own way, speak to them
about the non-feasibility of a military solution. I think, secondly, letting
them know that the international community in our judgment as a whole does
not support another independent state is, I hope, at least a message that
will have some effect. We believe that they should give up assassination and
terror. We believe that they should be part of a negotiating process that
the government has offered. And I believe the government is anxious to
obviously resolve in its own mind what it is prepared to do in its
negotiating efforts to achieve the result by trying to describe what an
effective autonomy might be.
Q: Mr. Rahul Sharma, Reuters Colombo Bureau Chief:
What were the key issues that you discussed with the President?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I think probably we've
discussed most of them here, right now. (Laughter.) The conflict was a key
issue discussed with the President. But almost everything that I set out in
my statement for you, came up.
Q: Mr. Sharma, Reuters: Did the President raise
any specific concerns about what the situation is now?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I think that it's best in
a diplomatic conversation with the President to let her or her spokesman
speak for their side of the issue, and I have taken even more liberties that
I normally do in describing for you in my statement and other things,
obviously a number of positions of my government, but you are safe to assume
that those are positions that I had the opportunity to convey directly to
Q: Ms. Charu Latha Joshi, Far Eastern Economic Review:
Did the issue of military aid come up at all?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: No, it did not come up.
Q: Ms. Charu Latha Joshi, Far Eastern Economic Review:
Not at all?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: Now, I want to be specific
and clear. When you speak of
military aid, that usually means gifts of military equipment. What did
come up was the government's interest in military equipment purchases, which
are normally done in the United States through manufacturing companies and a
government licensing process. And that was discussed.
Q: Mr. Dilip Ganguly, AP Colombo Bureau Chief: Is
it possible to elaborate a bit on this?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: No, I think that, since we
were speaking confidentially, the government has a right to protect the
confidentiality of its military purchases; they have operational
significance for its military activities, and I think I would be in breach
of diplomatic confidentiality, if I went into details. Again, you are free
to consult your own sources.
Q: Ms. Vandana Chopra - VOA: What about
humanitarian assistance? Was that on the table?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: It was also discussed and,
obviously, all of us remain concerned, particularly in the conflict ongoing
in the Jaffna peninsula, as to the fact that innocent civilians are caught
between both sides, put in danger.
estimates vary, but tens, maybe hundreds of thousands may or have already
been displaced by the fighting and this is of serious concern.
Their nourishment, medical relief
and so on -- and I had an opportunity just before I came here, to talk
to a number of representatives of NGOs who are equally concerned and
obviously we shared our concerns about those issues. There are different
estimates -- both about the numbers of people affected and about the food
and sustenance situation. Many tell me that many people that have been
displaced have the opportunity to go and be with families and therefore are
not in serious danger of not being fed for awhile. But if the military
fighting goes on and the situation gets worse and, if the battle lines move
back and forth, that will affect more people, and we share that concern and
we will continue to be in touch with the government and watch it closely.
Q: Ms. Vandana Chopra, VOA: But if the need
arises what sort of humanitarian assistance in the United States ready to
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I think that we have a
long tradition of providing humanitarian assistance and in the past that's
consisted of food and other kinds of emergency assistance. We are
contributors to the
Nations High Commission for Refugees, the United Nations Development
Program. We contribute to the
and so one of our choices (to how to provide help), which is one that we
usually follow, is established international or non-governmental
organizations that are working on the scene can provide a conduit for those
kinds of contributions. I don't know, Shaun, whether you have any figures on
what sort of contributions we make to international agencies that have a
U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Shaun E. Donnelly: Sorry, I really
don't, but we have been significant contributors certainly to the
We can try to get those figures for you.
Q: Ms. Minelle Fernandez, MTV News: You observed
that it was important that the government should offer a broad form of
autonomy to the Tamils in the North and East as a way of getting around the
problem. Did this come under discussion with the government?
US Under Secretary of State,
Pickering: Yes, briefly, and they talked to us
about their efforts to try to bring together both the government parties and
the parties in opposition around a major effort in this direction. We
simply would encourage it, as I said in my statement today.
Q: Ms. Suzy Price, BBC Correspondent: The
government has also talked about the possibility of a "joint effort" between
the United States, Norway, and India. Do you see yourselves in a supporting
role with Norway as the chief mediator or what?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I think that's fair to say
that, given Norway's background and experience in this, both we and India
are prepared to defer to their leadership. Because in fact they seem to have
done an effective job, and we have both offered our support and assistance
in backing it. We are particularly conscious that
India believes it has an
important role to play in South Asia and wants to -- and obviously are
prepared to defer, too, to that role. But at the same time, we are deeply
concerned by the situation, so there may be ways from time to time in
cooperation with others that we can contribute. Rather than a joint effort,
I would say a cooperative effort would be a better description of
diplomatically what's happened. And maybe others will join.
Q: Mr. Amal Jayasinghe, AFP Bureau Chief: Now, if
you're trying to persuade the government and the Tigers to agree to talks,
how much time do you think this process will take and ---
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: It's already taken much
too long. I think it's a fair question. The real question is that we haven't
been able to do it.
The government with all of its efforts and we in all of our efforts
haven't been able to do it, and I think that the military situation has a
lot to say. I think someone implied as much in the questions that they gave
me, and I think that has to be watched very carefully.
as military situations change, sometimes the opportunities for getting
people to the table to talk change.
Q: Mr. Amal Jayasinghe, AFP Bureau Chief: But
you're thinking in terms of months, years, before the two sides can get
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I think it's-- Since this
has already gone on much too long, and it should have
happened 8 years ago, I don't really think it is my job to be a prophet
in such uncertain circumstances. I would like to see talks start right away.
There is a difference, of course, between when talks start and when they
will end. And others, who know more about the region and the situation than
I do, predict that talks once started, if started, will take a long time. I
have no way to give you a better opinion on that subject. I would just defer
to people who are more expert on this than I am. But as I say, it's -- you
know, it should start tomorrow. And we'd like to see it start tomorrow. We
don't have an absolutely control -- nobody does -- of this situation, and
therefore it's going to take some more time.
Q: Ms. Vandana Chopra, VOA: Does the United
States want India to go in for military intervention?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I think that's a situation
in which India has already made clear its position -- that it doesn't intend
to. And I think, as I said a moment ago, we defer to India as a country of
regional consequence to make its own decisions on these issues.
Q: Mr. Dilip Ganguly, AP Colombo Bureau Chief: If
it comes to evacuating the troops-- in the event it happens -- will the
Indian assistance be forthcoming? Did you get that idea?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I have the impression that
the Indians are prepared to be helpful, provided that both parties are
prepared to provide security assurances that the Indians will not become a
party to fighting by doing so. And I can understand India's concern about
not wanting to become a third party in the conflict, if I could put it that
Q: Mr. Gamini
Weerakoon, Ed, Daily Island:
You stand for, against a separate state created here. But, what
happens if it is created? What happens? What would your reaction be?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I think it is quite clear
that it will receive no recognition from anyone. So, I mean, you could go
home tonight and declare your house a separate state. The question of making
it effective and functioning in dealing with the Sri Lankan authorities,
should you intend to become a government beyond your house, would have its
own problems. So, I would say, you know, people try this from time to time,
but in effect,
is the international community that is the arbiter of who becomes states and
who doesn't become states through a process of recognition and
establishment of relations. At the moment, I see this as sort of becoming a
dead planet, if that's what it wants to be.
Q: Ms. Suzy Price, BBC Correspondent: How
damaging do you think the censorship has been for Sri Lanka's image abroad?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I don't think it's been
good, and I certainly left that impression here. I got the impression people
were interested in changing.
Q: Rahul Sharma, Reuters: People were interested
Q: Vandana Chopra, VOA: You mean, in your talks
with the government?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: In talks with government
and people outside the government.
Q: Vandana Chopra, VOA: No, but the government is
the deciding culprit here, so do you think the clampdown is going to be less
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I think you have to watch
and wait and see what happens.
Q: Mr. Keith Noyhar, Deputy Editor, Daily Mirror:
To pick up on Ganguly's question, shouldn't there be, you know, the LTTE
having waited so far, like, is it possible for them to give up their armed
struggle? And don't you think a certain amount of arm-twisting or gunboat
diplomacy has to be exercised on your part as a global superpower as far as
the LTTE is concerned?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: If I could figure out how
to make it happen, of course I would. But I think you know, short of armed
U.S. military intervention, which is not on and everybody knows it's not on,
I don't have an answer to your question, other than we will keep trying. And
you're right, there is a certain amount of additional arm-twisting.
The problem is we've got no arms to twist right now. (Laughter)
Q: Mr. Dilip Ganguly, AP Colombo Bureau Chief:
The question being asked by the average Sri Lankan, is that the U.S. in the
past history have "intervened," or have gone for help for reasons maybe not
less serious as this one. But in this case, U.S. is keeping a diplomatic
face without really crossing it, whereas in the past it has done such
things. Is it that Sri Lanka doesn't have any interest for you? Maybe less
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: No, I think not. I think
the last case in which we intervened was Kosovo. And there we had a series
of increasing atrocities being committed and a million people displaced to
other states. And we felt that had to stop and
there was no way to convince the perpetrator that it was going to stop, so
we did intervene. There are a lot of people who disagreed with that
intervention. And in each case that there is the need for humanitarian
intervention, we have to make a decision about under what circumstances and
when and these are never easy. They are always very hard. They always bring
about some opposition. And the United States, acting alone or in concert
with others, is unfortunately not in a position to solve all conflicts in
the world through intervention, nor do I think the world would be very
comfortable with that idea.
Q: Mr. Dilip Ganguly, AP Colombo Bureau Chief: No
one expects the U.S. to come and intervene militarily. Sri Lankans are very
well-educated people. They don't expect that. But they think that since the
U.S. is the police guard of the world, that is a given, why can't you come
and do something?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: Not with military, but
with police. No, I think there are practical limitations on what any country
can do, whether they are considered a super power or not. And I think that
in this particular set of issues, we believe that we can be most effective
and most useful by helping diplomatically as we are, a process that at least
has begun working with Norway, with India, and others. We will do all that
we can to try to help that process.
Q: Mr. Roy Dinesh, Defense columnist, Sunday Leader, India
Could you tell us about these reports about naval ships moving toward Sri
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I don't know of any such
activities, and I think I would be aware. I don't think our Ambassador
knows. U.S. naval ships. I think it's entirely a false report. We have naval
ships that move all the time, but I know that none of them are moving to Sri
Q: Mr. Dilip Ganguly, AP: Since the U.S.
government is not doing any arm twisting, some Indian journalists in Delhi
decided to do some arm-twisting in their own way. (Laughter)
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: Well, that's a
contribution to Indian journalism, which India Today could report. But you
have your answer from Mr. Ganguly. He says it's Indian journalists who are
-- confecting -- these reports to influence the situation. You'd better ask
him for -- (Laughter).
Q: Ms. Charu Latha Joshi, correspondent, Times of India;
Far Eastern Economic Review: There is a stream of thought within
Sri Lanka about UN intervention in particular and it's almost as if the Sri
Lankan nation-state has stirred itself again. The Foreign Minister has made
statement objecting and rejecting UN intervention, has also made strong
statements about EU interference, what they perceive as EU interference. Did
you get a sense of this during your talks? And what exactly did they --?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: No, I did not in the sense
that, while the United States is a member of the United Nations and a
permanent member of the Security Council, I did not hear that particular
question. It was not raised with me, and I don't know the context of the
statements, so I better be a little bit careful. But no, I felt warmly
welcomed, and I felt a serious interest in what the United States could do
to be helpful, and that was the subcenter and substance of the
Moderator: I'm told we have time for two more questions.
Q: Mr. Rahul Sharma, Reuters Colombo Bureau Chief:
Up until now,
Sri Lanka was maintaining that the ethnic problem, the war with the LTTE, is
mainly internal. Did you get the feeling that it's the government, which
feels that things have come to a head, and therefore it has to go out and
externalize it and ask for help? Is it a government under siege?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: Well, I think you don't
want to put words in my mouth....
Mr. Rahul Sharma: No, I wouldn't. (Laughter)
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I'll take them out of
yours if you want. And I wouldn't reach that conclusion, and I just felt
that I was welcomed as a foreign guest, told the best assessments of all the
people I saw, and I saw different people, government and non-government
people, about the situation. I didn't see wide variations in those
assessments. I saw some different variations in the remedies.
I saw a government that was interested in the attitude of my
government, which usually isn't the case when people say "This
is an internal problem, we don't want to talk to you about it."
We compared notes, and I told them of the stand of my government, all of
which has been given to you in exquisite detail today. And I felt that that
was welcomed, and that was basically it. So, I don't think that that adds up
either to a state of siege or to a rejection of a foreign visitor who is
interested in what's happening here and how this government can be helpful.
Moderator: Any last question?
Q: Ms. Suzy Price, BBC Correspondent: What do
you, does the United States feel about the fighting in Jaffna -- if the
Tigers took Jaffna, the idea of regional instability spreading through the
provinces of South India, for example?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I think that that's been
raised. And I think it's something that can't be excluded, but I don't think
that it is an immediate and I would call it galloping result of what's
happening. But it could happen in any region where you have instability,
where you have ethnic links of some kinds between states or between parts of
states. As you know, it has already had an influence, and therefore it
is not wise to sit up here and say nothing like that can ever happen. We all
know it can. I think the critical question is the one I just tried to
address, that I think it is not an issue that I see as immediate and
emerging, but I think it is certainly one that has serious potential and
should not be lost sight of.
Moderator: We have a plea for one more --
Q: Ms. Charu Latha Joshi, correspondent, Times of India;
Far Eastern Economic Review: There's been an increasing sense, in
the media at least, that the U.S. is unhappy with India dithering....
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: Over...?
Q: Ms. Charu Latha Joshi: India dithering in
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: Dithering...
Q: Ms. Charu Latha Joshi: Yes. So what do you
have to say about that? Or is it just a media invention?
US Under Secretary of State, Pickering:
don't think there's any truth to that. And nothing I have said has done
anything but try to dispel that. It's not up to the United States to tell
India what to do in South Asia, but it is something we compared notes on.
Indian Foreign Secretary and I appeared on the same platform and answered a
whole series of questions on this particular issue, and I think we were
seeing things in very parallel ways, and I think we had very common
assessments of the situation.
Moderator: Thank you very much. And thank you all.