Cablegate: Oslo Meeting Reaps Lavish, Upbeat Press Coverage; Deputy Secretary´S Remarks Earn Praise

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

DECL: 11-26-12

Refs: Colombo 2184, and previous (U) Classified by Lewis Amselem, Charge d´Affaires. Reasons 1.5 (b,d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: The Oslo meeting on the Sri Lankan peace process has received lavish, upbeat press coverage. Deputy Secretary Armitage´s remarks -- which were specifically highlighted in the press coverage -- earned special praise. President Kumaratunga has not yet issued a public statement on the meeting, but members of her party are planning a rally in Colombo today protesting the GSL´s peace initiative. Our preliminary assessment is that the Oslo meeting provided the peace process a solid boost. END SUMMARY.

------------------------------------ OSLO GARNERS LAVISH, UPBEAT COVERAGE ------------------------------------

2. (SBU) The November 25 Oslo ""Sri Lanka Peace Process Support Meeting"" received lavish and upbeat press coverage back home. In November 26 newspaper editions, coverage was front-page and above-the-fold, with large photo spreads. With most of the focus on Deputy Secretary Armitage´s remarks (see more in Para 6), representative headlines from the major papers included: -- ""Daily News"" (English): ""U.S. urges LTTE to Renounce Terrorism"" -- ""Daily Mirror"" (English): ""United States urges Tigers to Give Up Terror"" -- ""The Island"" (English): ""PM Calls on Global Community to Help Lanka Now"" -- ""Dinamina"" (Sinhala): ""America Says LTTE should Publicly Declare that they have Given Up Armed Confrontation"" -- ""Lankadeepa"" (Sinhala): ""Armitage -- LTTE should Give Up Idea of Separate State and Armed Struggle""

3. (SBU) Most editorials portrayed the Oslo meeting as a key boost for the peace process. The editorial in ""The Island,"" a paper that invariably takes a strongly anti-peace process tack, did not mention the Oslo meeting, however. (Note: ""The Island"" preferred to lambaste putative plans by the government to allow a re- broadcast on a government radio channel of LTTE leader´s V. Prabhakaran´s annual ""Heroes´ Day"" address on November 27 -- see Reftel.)

4. (U) Television and radio also provided significant coverage of the meeting. Opening remarks by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) special negotiator Anton Balasingham, and Deputy Secretary Armitage were given special attention.

5. (SBU) ""TamilNet,"" the pro-LTTE website, provided several stories on the Oslo meeting. Most of its reporting, predictably, focused on Balasingham´s remarks. Reflecting a newfound commitment to balanced reporting, however, TamilNet also provided a thorough review of Deputy Secretary Armitage´s remarks, including his call for the LTTE to renounce, terrorism, violence, and separatism.

------------------------------- SPECIAL PRAISE FOR U.S. REMARKS -------------------------------

6. (C) In discussions with a wide variety of contacts, Deputy Secretary Armitage´s remarks drew special praise. Most of the comments focused on that section of the remarks that referred to the LTTE. Reaction included: -- Kethesh Loganathan, an analyst at the Center of Policy Alternatives, a local think-tank, told us that the U.S. presence at the meeting was constructive in underscoring international support for the peace process. In addition, the Deputy Secretary´s remarks had set ""clear-cut boundaries"" (renounce terrorism and violence, etc.) that the LTTE needed to absorb fully if the group wanted increased international acceptance. -- Taranjit Sandhu, the polcouns at the Indian High Commission, also praised the Deputy Secretary´s remarks. He stressed that the comments re the LTTE should prove beneficial in convincing the group that it needed to do more to convince the international community that it had transformed itself. Sandhu went on to express some concern that the LTTE might get the wrong message from the meeting and believe that the fact that it was allowed to be present at all signified international acceptance. -- Harim Peiris, a spokesman for President Kumaratunga, told us that he thought that the Deputy Secretary´s remarks were positive and should prove ""bracing"" for the LTTE. It was important that the group not believe that it had already earned international acceptance. -- Joseph Pararajahsingham, a senior Tamil National Alliance MP, welcomed U.S. participation at the Oslo meeting. While not commenting directly on the Deputy Secretary´s remarks re the LTTE, Pararajahsingham was SIPDIS not critical of those remarks either. He said he thought Oslo was a great success for the peace process. (Note: Pararajahsingham is extremely pro-LTTE. He said he had just gotten back to Colombo from a LTTE ""Heroes´s Day"" celebration in his hometown of Batticaloa.) (Note: TamilNet cited Balasingham as welcoming U.S. participation in the Oslo meeting by stating: ""The American participation in this meeting is an extraordinarily important matter for us because it reinforces the point that the LTTE is a crucial partner in resolving the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka."")

---------------------- OPPOSITION PLANS RALLY ----------------------

7. (C) President Kumaratunga, who has long been at odds with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, has not yet come out with a public statement in reaction to the Oslo meeting. Her assistant, Harim Peiris, said he would hold a press conference tomorrow to review the president´s stance. Peiris seemed to indicate that the president would not be taking a negative position, but that her reaction would be positive-themed.

8. (C) In the meantime, members of Kumaratunga´s People´s Alliance (PA) party are planning a rally in Colombo today (November 26) protesting the GSL´s handling of the peace process. Several senior PA MPs reportedly plan to participate in the rally, including Anura Bandaranaike (the president´s brother), Mangala Samaraweera, and Dinesh Gunarwardena. MPs from the radical Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) will also participate. (Note: Judging from previous anti-peace process rallies, most of the crowd will consist of JVP supporters.) Queried about the rally, Peiris separated the president´s office from it, asserting that the rally did not involve President Kumaratunga.

-------COMMENT -------

9. (C) It is still early, but our preliminary assessment is that the Oslo meeting provided the peace process a solid boost. Per expectations (see Reftels), most of the focus at the meeting reportedly was on the message that the international community supports the peace process -- and not on pledging by donors. That political message was well received and was amplified significantly by U.S. participation. In addition, based on the press coverage, our message re the LTTE was also broadcast loud-and-clear. Whether the LTTE picked up on our message -- aside from Balasingham´s publicized comments to the effect that the LTTE could not totally forswear violence at this time -- will be tested in the first instance on November 27 by the substance of Prabhakaran´s annual address (see Reftel). END COMMENT.
10. (U) Minimize considered.

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