By: P K Balachandran
COLOMBO: In the run-up to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s state visit to Sri Lanka last month, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government found itself in a cleft stick. The US had expressed concern over growing ties between Sri Lanka and Iran, particularly because of a report on a secret military dimension. While Sri Lanka needed Iran’s friendship to meet its energy needs, it could not develop relations with Iran at the expense of ties with the US, whose help it needs to quash the Tamil Tiger rebels’ international network.
Instead of chickening out of a difficult situation, Rajapaksa and his team took on the challenge and pulled off a remarkable balancing act, diplomatic sources told this website’s newspaper.
A senior minister with influence in Washington met top US political leaders across the political divide, and allayed their fears about a military dimension. The Sri Lankans categorically denied a report that Brig Gen Quassem Suleimani, Director General of Iran’s Qods Force, which was involved in covert operations against Israel, had visited Colombo.
It is learnt there was indeed a small but vocal minority in the Sri Lankan hierarchy which wanted military cooperation with Iran, but its proposals were rejected by Rajapaksa, who was keen on accommodating US security concerns. Luckily, Iran too was looking at Sri Lanka from an economic standpoint, rather than a military one.
The Sri Lanka-Iran Joint Statement, issued on April 29 at the end of Ahmadinejad’s two-day visit, gushed about the exponential growth in Sri Lanka-Iran economic ties, but also referred to the sensitive nuclear issue of critical importance to Iran and the US. What the statement said did not exactly meet the US demand, but the formulation was technically unexceptionable.
The statement said that Art. IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, on the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, should be applied in a non-discriminatory manner. It reiterated adherence to Art. I and II, which banned nuclear proliferation.
The US had demanded that Iran go by UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear activities. But the Lanka-Iran statement maintained that the competent authority in the field was the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
However, in response to US/Israeli sensitivities, the statement refrained from reiterating a proposal made in an earlier Joint Statement (made on Nov. 29, 2007), that there be a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone. The April 29 statement only called for universal nuclear disarmament.
“The negotiations were tough, but there was a lot of give and take, which shows that the only way to deal with Iran is to engage it constructively and not confront it,” a senior Sri Lankan negotiator told this website’s newspaper.
“Iran is a country with an ancient civilization. If it is treated with due respect, the world will see a win-win situation,” he added.
Courtesy : http://www.newindpress.com/