Lanka’s Measured Diplomatic Appointments in Key Capitals

Daya Gamage, in Asian Tribune US Bureau Diplomatic Note, Septmber 2020, with this title “Sri Lanka enters into rational foreign policy with key dip. appointments”

  Sri Lanka administration under the Rajapaksa brothers has given a strong indication that it is moving toward formulating a rational foreign policy taking serious note of the emerged international order in the past three years that brought Washington and New Delhi into an unprecedented military bond,  on-going military thrust toward Indo-Pacific region, the relevance of the Quad – US-India-Australia-Japan – India’s Modi administration’s special emphasis that Sri Lanka maintain closer working rapport with it, the acceleration of political-military and economic rivalry between US-India combination and China in announcing key diplomatic appointments to New Delhi, Washington and Beijing.

Moragoda and Modi in 2008 –“Minister of Tourism Milinda Moragoda in President MahindaRajapaksa administration met with India’s Gujarat Chief MinisterNarendra Modi in Capital City Gandhinagar 08 October, 2008”

The most sensible and vital appointment the Rajapaksa administration made was sending Milinda Moragoda to New Delhi with cabinet-rank status – which is essential for him to effectively represent Sri Lanka in Washington power circles well known to him for decades – along with the new US ambassador to Washington Ravinatha Aryasinha  -another veteran diplomat having most recently served as the foreign secretary –all amid the US-India now stabilized political-military bond which is designed to face the Chinese expansion in the Indo-Pacific region.

Amid this scenario, in an endeavor to keep the emerging rational foreign policy well balanced, another veteran internationally known diplomat who was once foreign secretary and onetime Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United Nation with excellent contacts with Washington and New York is designated to be the envoy to China: Dr. Palitha Kohona.

Palitha Kohona

President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, of course with the concurrence of his older brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in making these diplomatic posting, is bringing Sri Lanka to a rational foreign policy trajectory seriously taking note of global power formation. Sri Lanka is aware that to fulfill India’s wishes – stated explicitly when President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi – it has to maintain a close rapport with New Delhi, and designating three individuals – especially Milinda Moragoda – who are diplomatically capable of focusing Washington, Sri Lanka has taken into consideration the strong political-military bond the United States and India have cemented in their December 2018 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in Washington.

It is in this context that the Rajapaksa administration has accepted the 2017- signed Acquisition of Cross-Servicing Agreement with the U.S. – a vastly improved agreement which goes to 83 pages [thus much more detailed than] the 2007-signed ACSA of 8 pages – to stay, the Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement which allows American military elements on Sri Lankan soil with diplomatic immunity still under consideration, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, despite a presidential panel in a report concluded that several clauses in the Compact compromise Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, in the words of Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage  “could be accepted with a compromise”, is still on President’s Order Book.

Not going against the grain, meaning seeing the practical aspect of the formation of the International Order, Sri Lanka is and the Rajapaksa brothers are, wise to understand the reality in moving toward the formulation of a rational foreign policy in designating three individuals who could help Sri Lanka to adopt “India First’ in line with “America First” when it comes to the Indo-Pacific region to which both New Delhi and Washington have given utmost priority.

In moving toward a rational foreign policy – a policy absolutely not under duress, compulsion or pressure – any observer of recent developments in international affairs would accept that Sri Lanka faced the reality. Here comes the importance of the designation of Milinada Moragoda, to Sri Lanka as well as to Washington and New Delhi.

Mr. Moragoda’s rapport with Prime Minister Nerendra Modi is well over a decade when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat State totally barred from Washington because of his alleged complicity with the Hindu-Muslim riots in his state a couple of years before. He met Chief Minister Modi in 2008 while being a cabinet minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration and several times subsequently. Mr. Modi is now in his second term as India’s prime minister, and Mr. Moragoda in New Delhi could be the best fit for Sri Lanka considering the geo-political atmosphere in the Indo-Pacific region. With the cemented politico-military bond between the U.S. and India, Milinda Moragoda, with his cabinet status, will have leverage to Washington as the latter considers Sri Lanka a strategically located in the Indo-Pacific region. With enhanced military and US Defense Department visits during the past four years, Sri Lanka has become [a] U.S. military hub  — [a process] which is difficult to reverse.

Moragoda’s best contact at present is Washington’s former envoy to Sri Lanka (2006-2009) Robert Blake who subsequently worked in the position of Assistant Secretary for South Asia in the State Department, and is now senior director for Asia in the influential and well extended Washington lobbying firm McLarty Associates. It is on an invitation from Moragoda’s Pathfinder Foundation that Robert Blake arrived in Colombo in May 2019, met principal political figures and delivered a lecture which commended the former defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s handling of national security during the Eelam War IV commenting on the Easter Attack the month before.

Moragoda with Blake in another era

Milinda Moragoda was heavily involved during the Norwegian-brokered 2001-2005 Peace Talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE in his capacity as the Economic Minister in the Ranil Wickremasinghe administration maintaining very close dialogue with State Department’s Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage who took a special interest in the Talks. When Armitage visited Sri Lanka in 2003 during the Peace Talks he visited Jaffna for talks with the top brass of the military in Jaffna accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Wills, Prime Minister Wickremasinghe and Milinda Moragoda.  His connections to Washington made him one of the principal negotiators with Wickremasinghe. His acceptance in Washington is well reflected in a diplomatic cable sent by the then American Ambassador Ashley Wills.

Anyone who is aware of the working of Washington establishments, especially the State and Defense Departments, [knows] that the reports of individuals and their related work are well protected for official use in later years, and they are well comprehended and shared. The diplomatic cable – which was once classified until Wikileaks released – provides an interesting description of Mr. Moragoda. That description fits well for the role he is expected to play as a (cabinet-level) High Commissioner in New Delhi which is in a political-military bond with Washington. Undoubtedly the diplomatic cables associated with Milinda Moragoda would have surfaced in Washington with his designation.

The cable classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” analyses the Sri Lanka’s pro–US foreign policy under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The cable was written on May 29, 2003 by the US Ambassador to Colombo E. Ashley Wills.

Some extracts of the cable are: (Quote) since coming to power in late 2001, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe has take up steps to steer Sri Lankan foreign policy closer to the U.S. In pursuing this pro-U.S. course, Wickremasinghe has been supported by two dynamic advisers, Minister of Constitutional Affairs G.L. Peiris and Minister of Economic Reforms Milinada Moragoda. (Note: Beyond their official titles, both Peiris and Moragoda play key roles as peace process negotiators and policy formulators for the GSL). In general, the Oxford-educated Peiris’ focus has been more on cultivating ties with former colonial power Britain and other Commonwealth countries, but he is very pro-U.S. and often visits Washington. More than Peiris’, Moragoda’s direct focus has been on cultivating relations with the U.S. and with India. Re the U.S., the intelligent, articulate Moragoda is a perfect fit. Born in Washington, D.C., he is a dual national Amcit (Please protect) married to an American, with plenty of Washington connections, many from his days as a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and at Harvard. A “big picture” person, Moragoda is also highly aware that the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world, and he feels that it is better that Sri Lanka recognize that fact and work within it. (End Quote)

In another diplomatic cable signed by Ambassador Robert Blake to Washington (in 2009) reporting on his appointment as Justice Minister says: “The appointment of the vibrant and well-regarded Milinda Moragoda as the new Minister of Justice and Law Reforms offers some grounds for optimism. Post regards him as an intelligent and savvy politician who, despite leaving the opposition UNP in 2007 to go over to the ruling coalition, has thus far avoided branding himself narrowly within the President’s shadow.”

In another cable Ambassador Blake speaks of Minister Moragoda’s role as bridge builder between President Rajapaksa and the US administration. A cable dispatched in April 2008 speaks of a meeting with the Minister after his visit to Washington, states: “President Rajapaksa recently designated Moragoda as a special envoy on external military relations with the US, India and possibly other countries” and comments “Although Moragoda occupies the benign post of Tourism Minister, he was offered much more senior posts and enjoys the confidence of and direct access to President Rajapaksa and his two brothers. They particularly value his counsel on US matters given Moragoda’s long experience in the United States.”


All three diplomatic appointments by President Rajapaksa – Moragoda to New Delhi, Kohona to Beijing and Aryasinha to Washington – are well interconnected when positive signs are emerging that Sri Lanka is on the path of formulating a rational foreign policy – I reiterate rational foreign policy – taking the global developments and national requirements into serious consideration.

However, it is interesting to watch.

originally in Asian Tribune

**** ****

NB: A REVELATORY CRITQUE from Ishanka Jayathilaka in Colombo, 27 September 2020

Hi Michael, I find it difficult to agree with Daya Gamage here. Sri Lanka is hardly following a rational foreign policy. According to my understanding Sri Lanka hardly has a foreign policy based on our national interests. One can ask whether Sri Lanka knows what our national interests are. The manner Sri Lanka government readily becomes a puppet of India while totally ignoring a friend like Pakistan is difficult to understand. Maybe the gov thinks, since the war has ended, we probably would not need Pakistan again.

Since you wanted me to comment on Armitage. I do not think Armitage had any plans about Sri Lanka even then. He was simply dragged into the SL affair by the Norwegians. There is a particular video (which is no longer available in YouTube) of the launching ceremony of Norwegian publication called Pawns of Peace. It is the Norwegian account of Sri Lanka’s peace process. The guest panel for the ceremony had Erik Solheim, Richard Armitage, Milinda Moragoda, an Indian journalist, and Norwegians. Francis Harrisson was also available. In the ceremony, Armitage clearly said they (the Americans) had  no knowledge of Sri Lanka’s conflict/ war and that it was the Norwegians who helped them understand it. He thanks the Norwegians for teaching about SL to him. In short, the Norwegian peace facilitators, especially Erik,was the ‘Guru’ of US when it came to Sri Lankan conflict. 

My understanding is that the Norwegians were not simply partial to LTTE, but got involved in the process with the motive of making things easy for LTTE by helping them win international sympathy and recognition, especially American recognition. They worked to achieve this day and night and almost succeeded when USA changed its track within few years and got actively engaged in our war. The Norwegians were instrumental in changing the US foreign policy towards Sri Lanka ……………….. Rgds, Ishanka

NB =Thalif Deen in USA: …

What UN Needs is a Cease-Fire Inside its own Security Council

Leave a comment

Filed under accountability, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, communal relations, economic processes, foreign policy, governance, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, military strategy, modernity & modernization, politIcal discourse, power politics, security, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, unusual people, world events & processes

Leave a Reply