A friend indeed!

The significance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad’s Sri Lankan visit is not purely economic, though Sri Lanka’s economy is bound to gain a tremendous boost from Iran’s benevolence. The development projects such as the diversion of the Uma Oya and the expansion of the CPC refinery complex and the concessionary credit line for oil imports from Iran will stand this country’s economy in good stead. The trouble that President Ahamadinejad took to travel all the way here to launch the Iranian-funded developmental schemes has helped give the lie to claims from some quarters that the aid that the Iranian government pledged during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit would remain a mere commitment without follow up action.

President Ahmadinejad minced no words when he told the press on Monday that Iran and Sri Lanka were committed to protecting each other. Whether Sri Lanka is capable of being of any use to Iran in that respect, apart from pledging solidarity with her and wishing her well, may be in doubt but President Ahmadinejad’s words are indicative of Iran’s willingness to go beyond tea and sympathy in assisting Sri Lanka in battling terrorism. He has proved that the international community doesn’t mean the West alone and Sri Lanka is not left without true friends in the world community.

The kneejerk reaction of the armchair international relations experts, dreaming of the next embassy party to gulp free liquor and gobble free food, may be to fling up their hands in horror and shout: "Sri Lanka has offended the US and Israel!" The US may have looked askance at the Iranian President’s visit here. But, the fact remains that President Ahmadinejad’s tour includes Pakistan and India as well. The US, as is obvious, is aware that emerging stronger ties between Sri Lanka and Iran—their relations date back to an era when America had not yet been discovered!—pose absolutely no threat to it or any of its allies. Therefore, the Iranian President’s visit may have been only a minor irritant to the US and Israel, which has had healthy relations with this country.

Sri Lanka was right in having invited President Ahmadinejad as, in so doing, it exercised its freedom of association without being dictated to by others. India not only did so but also bluntly told the US that it did not need any guidance on how to conduct bilateral relations with another country. However, such aggressive diplomacy is a luxury Sri Lanka can ill-afford. India has proved it is a nation with self respect and not a poodle state ever ready to lick imperial boots.

Those who argue that Sri Lanka has, owing to its Iran policy, antagonised Israel, upon which it is dependent for a part of its military supplies, are blowing a minor diplomatic issue out of proportion. Bilateral relations are far too complex an affair to be oversimplified in so amateurish a manner. India launched an Israeli built spy satellite this year. Earlier it had voted against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran, no doubt, didn’t take kindly to such actions but now we have the cIranian President visiting India.

That the US or any of its allies wants to give a country a bad name and bomb it is no reason for all others to sever links with that nation. Whether Iran is conducting nuclear programmes or whether it will be able to make ‘the bomb’ is not Sri Lanka’s concern. There is no evidence to prove that Iran is pursuing a nuclear arms programme, though the US insists it has proof. But, after the US-led mission to destroy WMDs in Iraq, the world knows better than to believe such claims. On the other hand, even if Iran were to have the so-called bomb, what difference would it make to Sri Lanka, whose exigencies are different? (It is worried about conventional bombs being exploded by terrorists and not nuclear bombs.)

The so-called Islamic bomb is already in existence, whether one likes it or not. The nuclear arsenals of the US and other Western countries crusading against nuclear arms proliferation are sufficient to blow the planet to smithereens several times over. So, why are they worried so much about the possibility of another bomb or two being added to that number?

We don’t want to be told that nuclear weapons should not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. For, already many wrong hands in the world are wielding them! The global North has created a new world order where every nation is compelled to strive for nuclear capability for self-defence. It was de Gaulle who famously said no country would be truly independent unless it had the bomb. How true!

If anyone thinks Sri Lanka is drifting towards the perceived enemies of the West, the fault is not hers. The West, blinded by hubris, is making the mistake of treating a democratic State like a terrorist outfit and vice versa, claiming to help resolve the conflict here. Its ambassadors are trying their hands at running this country and avail themselves of every opportunity to ridicule its sovereignty and enervate it for the benefit of terrorists, as evident from a sinister move to use the GSP+ facility to make Sri Lanka do their bidding. So, it is only natural that this country has had to look elsewhere for assistance.

President Ahmadinejad deserves thanks for having proved Iran is a true friend of Sri Lanka—in both word and deed.

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