Cablegate: Ambassador Delivers Secretary's Letter to Prime Minister
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 002200
DEPARTMENT FOR D, SA, SA/INS
NSC FOR E. MILLARD
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/13
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINS CE NO JA EU IN LTTE
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR DELIVERS SECRETARY'S LETTER TO PRIME MINISTER
REF: STATE 348253
1. (C) SUMMARY: Ambassador delivered letter from the Secretary to the Prime Minister on Dec 31. PM was
SIPDIS appreciative of the statement issued by the Department following Moragoda meeting with the Deputy Secretary. Ambassador told the PM that a similar letter would be delivered to the President on Friday Jan 2. Prime Minister was appreciative and understood that real target of the letters was President Kumaratunga. PM said the President needed to decide whether she wanted to ally with the JVP and go for elections or seek an accommodation with the UNP. PM said he was willing to give her a face-saving way out if she decided to work with him. PM thought Indian idea of regional commands was probably not workable. President's office is upset about spin some press is putting on the Department statement. END SUMMARY
Secretary's Letter Delivered
2. (C) Ambassador called on Prime Minister Wickremasinghe on Dec 31 to deliver letter from Secretary Powell (reftel). The Department statement following the meeting between Milinda Moragoda and the Deputy Secretary had been front-page news in the Sri Lankan press that morning, and PM expressed his appreciation for the statement. He saw that it was clearly directed at President Kumaratunga. After reading the Secretary's letter, the PM said that it was fine. Ambassador said that a similar but not identical letter was going to the President. The PM understood, he believed, that we felt we needed to send letters to both of them, since the letters called for them both to work to solve the crisis, but that it was really the President we were pointing at. PM smiled and said he understood completely.
3. (C) Ambassador asked if any progress was being made on an agreement with the President. PM said that the President did not seem to know what she wanted to do: did she want an alliance with the Sinhalese-chauvinist JVP party and an election, or did she want to make a deal on the three Ministries with him and his UNP party and get on with the peace process? She simply needed to make up her mind. PM said that if she decided to work with him, he could find a way for her to save face. She could keep the Defense Minister title, and he would take over operational control of the military as Minister of National Security, even though he would rather have someone else take over that job. She could have input into overall defense matters and the peace process through a National Security Council. Ambassador said that he had told the President several times that this was a political problem, not a legal one, and needed a political solution. PM said this was exactly the right tack.
4. (C) Ambassador asked if there was any hope in the idea reportedly being floated by Indian High Commissioner Sen of the creation of a regional command or commands which would come under the Prime Minister. PM said he did not think this would go anywhere, and even if he liked it, he did not think the Service Chiefs would accept it.
Making Letter Public
5. (C) The PM asked if we intended to make the letters to him and the President public, and Ambassador said we did not. PM asked if he could make the letter to him public, and Ambassador replied that since he was the recipient, that was his decision. Ambassador suggested, however, that if the PM were to do so, he wait until after the Ambassador had delivered the similar letter to the President on Friday Jan 2. The PM agreed and said he would probably release the letter on Monday.
President's Office Calls
6. (C) President's media adviser Harim Peiris called Ambassador first thing Wednesday morning after stories about Department statement had appeared in the morning newspapers. (Two of the three major English dailies carried the statement essentially without comment. One daily which is close to the PM, however, carried an AFP story which stated that ""the State Department implicitly criticised President Kumaratunga who triggered the crisis during a visit to Washington last month by Prime Minister Wickremasinghe."") Peiris said that the statement seemed fine to the President and to him, but they were upset by the AFP story. Peiris wondered if we could issue a correction to AFP. Ambassador replied that we were not in the habit of commenting on interpretations by news agencies, and that if anyone asked us, we would tell them to read the statement, which spoke for itself.
7. (C) The PM seemed relaxed, buoyed up by our reassurances that we understood clearly where the fault for the current crisis lay. His stated willingness to help the President save face is welcome, but he did not seem to have any new ideas on how to move forward. From the Presidential side, we are sure that the President knows full well whom the Department statement is directed toward. As noted above, Ambassador will see her and deliver the Secretary's letter on Friday Jan 2. He expects to hear from her at that time her current line that there is no political crisis and that the peace talks have been suspended anyway since April, long before the current dispute. The answer to that, of course, is that the talks were set to resume under Norwegian facilitation in December -- until her takeover of the Ministries stopped things in their tracks. Ambassador will emphasize to her, as the Department statement said, the need for a political resolution which will bring about a clarification of responsibilities so that the peace negotiations can resume.