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The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI) hosted a roundtable discussion on 18th October 2023 on the theme “Strengthening Engagement in U.S.-Sri Lanka Relations”. The roundtable was facilitated by Amb. Ravinatha Aryasinha, Executive Director of LKI, and featured Mr. Keerthi Martyn, U.S. Fulbright Scholar who was hosted by the LKI and concluded a 9-month Fulbright research project, where he set out to understand and critically examine the avenues of mutual cooperation in the U.S.-Sri Lanka relationship.
Mr. Martyn opened the discussion by presenting his research findings, where he outlined his analysis and explored the “Resetting, Restraint, and Re-engagement” of the U.S.-Sri Lanka bilateral relationship. Mr Martyn examined the missed opportunities in the post-conflict era and the necessity of a “reset” of relations, evaluated the current shifts and characterizations of U.S. and Sri Lankan foreign policies and the strategy of “restraint” in their execution. He identified areas of “re-engagement” in the political, geopolitical, economic, development, security, and multilateral regional spheres.
The discussion provided an opportunity for a variety of stakeholders ranging from foreign policy practitioners and academics from Sri Lanka and the US, business leaders, and civil society to contribute to the debate. While acknowledging important contributions made by the US to Sri Lanka in the past, stakeholders also provided their perspectives on the sources of consternation and strategic gaps between prior engagements, and how to foster stronger relations moving forward. The topics of discussion included how to better address political fractures around issues of human rights, the need for the US to directly engage with Sri Lanka on its own terms – rather than to be seen as being affiliated with or pointedly against other countries with which Sri Lanka has important relations, the present realities of Sri Lanka’s geopolitical balancing act in the Indian Ocean, how to strengthen the bilateral relationship with a more inclusive U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, the importance of domestic economic regulatory reforms to strengthen trade and increase incentives for American investments, the visibility of U.S development in Sri Lanka, and how to build capacity for a stronger maritime security relationship.
Stakeholders at the roundtable discussion included: Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke, Former Foreign Secretary, Ambassador to the USA and Chairman, Pathfinder Foundation; Ms. Yasoja Gunasekera, Additional Secretary of Bilateral Affairs-West, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Rear Admiral Y.N Jayarathna, Former Chief of Staff, SL Navy; Dr. Bhagya Senaratne, Senior Lecturer, Department of Strategic Studies, KDU; Mr. Dustin Bickel, Regional Indo-Pacific Coordinator, U.S. Embassy; Mr. Kevin Price, Political Officer, U.S. Embassy; Mr. Daniel Moon, Economic Officer, U.S. Embassy; Mr. Shirendra Lawrence, President of the American Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka; Dr. Daniel Markey, Senior Advisor, South Asia Programs, United States Institute of Peace; Mr. Charithra Hettiarachchi, Vice President, Sri Lanka/USA Business Council at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce; Ms. Vrai Raymond, Head of Secretariat of the American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka; Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director, Center for Policy Alternatives; Dr. Jehan Perera, Executive Director, National Peace Council; Dr. Asanka Wijesinghe, Research Fellow, Institute of Policy Studies; Mr. Malinda Meegoda, Assistant Manager of Economics, Verité Research; and Ms. Isha Gupta, Research Analyst, United States Institute of Peace.