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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of  Struggle for Tamil Eelam > United States & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > US Congress International Relations Subcommittee for Asia and the Pacific, June 2005

United States & the struggle for Tamil Eelam

US Congress International Relations Subcommittee
 for Asia and the Pacific -
U.S. Policy toward South Asia
14 June 2005
Whatever may be said, who ever may say it
- to determine the truth of it, is wisdom
- Thirukural

Statement of Christina Rocca, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs
Opening Statement Representative James A. Leach, Chairman, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific
also Webcast Video


Statement of Christina Rocca,
Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs (full text in PDF)

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to join you today to discuss the United States relationship with South Asia. This is our first opportunity since the start of the second Bush Administration to review what has been accomplished in the past four years and discuss our goals for the future.

We now have an exciting window of opportunity to work with our partners in South Asia and make truly historic progress. Our goal is to move forward firmly and irreversibly on paths to stability, democracy, moderation and prosperity. President Bush came to office in 2001 recognizing the growing importance of South Asia to the United States. He directed that the United States build stronger relationships with all of the countries in the region. This has been accomplished; the United States now has very active and productive relationships with every country in South Asia. During his second Administration, the President has made clear his intention that we build on these already strong relationships and move to the next level. There are significant challenges to overcome, but the rewards – for South Asia and the United States – definitely make the effort worthwhile.

As we pursue our bilateral goals, our relationship with each South Asian country stands on its own, and I will review these relationships shortly. We also take a regional approach on some issues, for example seeking to improve stability by encouraging states to overcome their differences. Since greater prosperity and economic interdependence would buttress stability and moderation, we seek strong economic growth in South Asia through greater intra-regional trade and cooperation in areas such as energy. We are supportive of the efforts by the SAARC countries to establish the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA). We are providing assistance to these efforts through a USAID funded high-level team of researchers who are working with counterparts in the region to produce a SAFTA study to support the process.

Stronger democratic institutions are a central goal for us in South Asia. All South Asians are familiar with democracy, and most have some degree of experience with it. But democratic institutions are seriously challenged in parts of the region. The United States is helping develop democratic tools such as the rule of law, independent media, grass roots activism, good governance and transparency through which these nations can address the fundamental problems of extremism, security, and development. Their success will bolster stability throughout the region. Progress in South Asia will have global consequences...

Sri Lanka...

Our primary goal in Sri Lanka is to help that country end more than a decade of bloody conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE. The United States continues to support Norway’s facilitation of a peace settlement in Sri Lanka. The cease-fire of 2002 is holding, although violence is ongoing and the peace process has stalled.

This is due in part to divisions within the Sri Lankan government and the absence of trust between the government and the LTTE, which continues to use assassinations and suicide bombers, underscoring their character as an organization wedded to terrorism and justifying their designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

Recovery from last December’s tsunami preempted the peace process as the primary concern of both parties for the past several months. With Norwegian assistance, the parties have been negotiating an agreement to regulate the distribution of tsunami reconstruction aid.

This agreement, a Joint Mechanism, is an opportunity to build trust between the parties and is therefore an important contribution to the peace process should it come to fruition. President Kumaratunga has publicly committed herself to signing the Joint Mechanism, but she faces serious challenges from members of her government who oppose the mechanism.

The United States firmly supports her plan to sign the Joint Mechanism and remains prepared, along with other donors, to help Sri Lanka address urgent post-conflict reconstruction needs...

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, as you can see, there are many challenges as well as opportunities for the United States in South Asia. There have been many positive developments recently, particularly in India and Pakistan, which give us reason for optimism. At the same time, there are areas of real concern, such as Nepal. But I feel confident in saying that much of South Asia already is fulfilling some of its great potential to be a source of stability, moderation and prosperity, although much remains to be done for it to fully realize its promise. We have every intention to encourage and assist this process wherever we can. Thank you and I would be happy to take questions.  


 


Opening Statement Representative James A. Leach
Chairman, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific

On behalf of the Subcommittee, I would like to express a warm welcome to Assistant Secretary Rocca and our other panel of distinguished witnesses. We appreciate your appearance before us this morning and look forward to an exchange of views. The hearing today is intended to review United States foreign policy priorities in South Asia and assess related opportunities and challenges to American interests.

Just a short decade ago, the notion that the U.S. would be deeply engaged with virtually all countries in the region on a panoply of people-to-people, economic, political and security concerns would have been deemed extraordinarily unlikely by America’s foreign policy establishment. Today, America’s increasingly close relationship with the region is not only accepted as a matter of course but is coupled with a deep-seated desire in Washington for even warmer societal ties.

There are many reasons for increased American involvement South Asia. I would like to emphasize one: demographic trends.

According to United Nations estimates, by 2050 India will have replaced China as the world’s most populous country with roughly 1.6 billion people. Astonishingly, Pakistan is projected to overtake Indonesia as the world’s fourth most populous country with 305 million (or roughly twice the population of Russia) and Bangladesh is anticipated to be the eighth largest at about 245 million. If accurate, the implications of those projections are profound, not only for the region and world economy but for basic social and political stability. For these and other reasons, it is important that America pay increasing attention to the region in the years ahead.

In this regard, the Administration’s strategic intent in South Asia is clear. It seeks to accelerate the development of a democratic partnership with India, maintain a stable and enduring relationship with a moderate Pakistan, and continue to nurture respectful and mutually productive relations with the other countries in the region. In my view, the Congress strongly supports these objectives.

While the broad outline of Administration objectives are clear, U.S. policy approaches at any given moment will of necessity require nuanced judgments.

For example, there is virtually no dissent in Washington from the precept that India and the United States should become natural allies with compelling incentives over time to cooperate closely on a host of regional and global concerns. In this regard, the Congress is looking forward to the visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later next month. I would be hopeful that the Administration will unambiguously announce support for Indian permanent membership on the UN Security Council at that time. We recognize, of course, that both countries have certain divergences of view on issues ranging from Burma and Iran to the Sudan, as well as on aspects of international trade policy and, of course, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

With respect to Pakistan, President Musharraf’s support for the campaign against terrorism is seminally significant. Pakistani policies may be imperfect, but Pakistan, the U.S., and the world are better off with the development of respectful rather than antagonistic relations between our two countries.

Turning to Nepal, it is self-evident that India, the U.S. and United Kingdom must all continue to work together to urge reconciliation between the King and the political parties in order bring the Maoists back to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, however, there are few signs that the King is fully committed to multi-party democracy. Delhi, London and Washington will have to calibrate their approach accordingly.

Elsewhere in the region, the coalition government in Colombo continues to debate the efficacy of a “joint mechanism” to provide tsunami relief to Tamil-majority areas of the North and East. Agreement on such an aid mechanism could be an important confidence building measure and catalyst for the stalemated peace process. Turning to Bangladesh, while America continues to seek strengthened relations with this historically moderate Muslim-majority country, there are troubling signs of growing political violence and deteriorating governance.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the plight of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Tragically and inexcusably, a major humanitarian impasse has developed in which for 14 years somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 Bhutanese refugees have been kept idle and lingering in seven camps in eastern Nepal. It is long past due for the international community to develop a durable solution to this lamentable circumstance.

 

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