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Good Morning Ladies and Gentleman,
It has been a great honour and privilege to welcome the Honourable John F. Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States, to the historic Republic Building which has been the home of our Foreign Ministry since Independence.
Secretary Kerry’s visit is a momentous occasion for Sri Lanka as it is the first official visit by a US Secretary of State in nearly half a century - 43 years to be precise.
I believe that this important visit signifies the return of our little island to the centre stage of international affairs.
This morning we continued a dialogue that began in Washington within a month of my appointment as Foreign Minister.
We agreed to build on a multifaceted bilateral relationship and to forge stronger links between our peoples.
We also agreed to formalize our relationship through a partnership dialogue that will enable us to continue this engagement on a regular basis.
Relations between our two countries have existed since the adoption of the US constitution, at which time records show that sailors from New England were anchored in the Galle Harbour.
American missionaries, including Sir Henry Olcott, who jointly designed the Buddhist flag flown during Vesak, played a vital role in founding and nurturing some of our best schools both in the North and the South.
Secretary Kerry’s visit to Sri Lanka comes at a very propitious moment.
On one hand, Buddhists in every part of the country, and all over the world, will be celebrating the Lord Buddha’s philosophy of tolerance and non-violence tomorrow, by lighting beautiful paper lanterns in their homes and on the streets.
And on the other hand, it also comes at a time when many Sri Lankans are celebrating the passage of the 19thAmendment to our constitution last Tuesday, which only one Member of Parliament opposed.
This was the apex of the 100 day programme which introduced far-reaching constitutional and democratic reforms.
Today, Sri Lanka is well on its way to becoming a fully-fledged Parliamentary democracy, laying the foundations for a new Sri Lanka, built on the pillars of democracy and ethnic harmony.
This will allow us to reap the fruits of increased economic growth and prosperity, which have been eluding us for nearly two decades.
Ensuring accountability in the New Sri Lanka, will feature as a key component of the reconciliation process, and the architecture of a domestic accountability mechanism with international technical assistance as promised by our manifesto are now being planned.
In this context there are also several areas where the United States can assist us by enhancing local capacity and providing technical expertise.
Sri Lanka, now a middle-income country, can no longer afford to rely solely on foreign aid.
It is in our government’s best interest to attract foreign direct investment as part of a broader strategy to kick-start the economy.
Sri Lanka has been considered a paradise for tourists for many years, but our government is now also keen to make Sri Lanka an investor’s paradise.
In order to do so, we are in the process of cultivating a rule based investment climate. I hope that American investors will take advantage of the many new economic opportunities now opening up in Sri Lanka.
Later today, Secretary Kerry will call on President Sirisena and have discussions with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.
I believe these discussions will provide an opportunity for both sides to understand their respective priorities and that the discussions will also heighten our existing close and friendly relations.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal for her unrelenting belief in Sri Lanka and it’s potential, and for the support and encouragement we have received from her over the last few months.
I hope there will be many more high-level visits to come and that today is just the beginning of a very, very special relationship between Sri Lanka and the United States.
I wish Secretary Kerry and his delegation a pleasant stay in Sri Lanka, and hope that he will visit us again soon, so we may have the opportunity to show him more of our beautiful and diverse island.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
2nd May 2015
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