US-Lanka to discuss 'Access and Cross Servicing Agreement'

by Shamindra Ferdinando
The visiting Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar is expected to meet with senior US defence officials to discuss the ongoing defence and security relationship and related bilateral issues. He is also scheduled to visit the US Coast Guard Cutter "Courageous," which is due to be officially handed over to the Sri Lanka Navy next month, our embassy in Washington DC said.

Navy headquarters yesterday said that the shipís captain the crew and a team of technicians would be sent there in June. "Hopefully the vessel will be here in late September-October," an authoritative officer said.

Kadirgamar is also scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice during the visit.

Talks are expected to cover the proposed Access and the Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) to allow US warships and aircraft to use Sri Lankan bases for refuelling and obtain other related services. Although the US discussed this particular agreement with the previous government it was never finalised. US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage during his brief visit to Colombo in early August 2202 expressed confidence in finalising the agreement. The agreement was to be signed in July 2002 but the previous government backed off at the last moment.

"Current relations between the two countries are marked by regular, high level contacts and meaningful bilateral cooperation in the areas of trade, investment, national security and global issues," the embassy said. Sri Lanka also benefits from regular joint exercises involving US advisors including members of highly specialised units and the Sri Lankan special forces (Navyís Special Boat Squadron included) and commandos. Joint exercises began during Kadirgamarís first tenure as the Foreign Minister, defence sources said. "They train on a range of skills from humanitarian things like first aid on the battle-field through reconnaissance techniques and other skills," the sources said.

The sources pointed out that Sri Lanka was one of few countries to reach a bi-lateral pact with the US regarding the non-surrender of people including security forces and politicians of either party present in the territory of the other to the International Criminal Court (ICC) without the consent of the country concerned.

This is the fifth visit by Minister Kadirgamar as Foreign Minister. His previous visits were in 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001, the embassy said in a brief statement issued on Saturday. Kadirgamarís visit to Washington DC was preceded by a visit to New Delhi.

The embassy said that Minister Kadirgamar will meet with Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor to discuss bilateral cooperation and peace initiatives of the Government.

"Kadirgamar will apprise the Secretary of State on the policies of the Government and reiterate its desire to achieve a secure, just and lasting peace for the benefit of all communities of Sri Lanka. He will also discuss with, both the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor, the status of the ongoing Cease-Fire agreement and prospects for resumption of peace talks."

In meetings with Senior Officials of the Office of the United States Trade Representative, Minister Kadirgamar will discuss ways and means to expand and deepen US - Sri Lanka trade and investment relations. Kadirgamar is also scheduled to meet with members of the US-Sri Lanka Working Group established at the United States Chamber of Commerce to engage them in the current trade and investment opportunities in the country.