Media Roundtable with Ambassador-At-Large Cofer BlackCofer Black, Coordinator For Counterterrorism
Colombo, Sri Lanka
September 8, 2004
Released by the U.S. Embassy Sri Lanka
AMBASSADOR BLACK : First of all it is a pleasure to be here; this is my first trip to Sri Lanka. This is my last stop on the way home. Previously on this trip I have been to India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. With India and Pakistan we have a joint working group where we meet every six months to review issues of common concern on counter-terrorism and to look at ways that we can mutually support each other, both politically and practically, to enable the practitioners of counter-terrorism to do their job more efficiently. I am very appreciative of the government of Sri Lanka's contribution in the field of counter-terrorism. I just came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and their contribution [the Government of Sri Lanka's] is multi-faceted. First of all in terms of the U.S. perspective, bi-laterally they have been very supportive in the global war on terrorism. They have played key roles regionally as well as in international fora at the United Nations. They have been key players in executing specific UN Security Council resolutions, and so they have done what we think is a very very good job of it, and we are very grateful.
We share a common view of the point of all of this. Sometimes I think that when one watches the absolute carnage on TV and the horrors of terrorism, it's important to remind ourselves of what we believe. Sri Lanka and the government of Sri Lanka have experienced terrorism; they are not strangers to this. The point of our efforts is to protect innocent men, women and children.
The government of the United States strongly supports the current peace process here in Sri Lanka; we salute the persistent efforts of the Norwegian government in its role of facilitating this process. I want to make it very clear that good faith negotiations are the only way to achieve lasting peace. We call upon the government and the LTTE to swiftly resume the peace talks and seriously move towards an agreement that is acceptable to both sides. We are particularly concerned that we have recently seen a clear increase in violence, including the July 7 suicide attack here in Colombo. I want to make this very clear, and I don't want any misunderstanding – the LTTE is presently on our list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and they are going to remain there until they show by word and deed, that they are negotiating in good faith [have renounced terrorism in word and deed], producing concrete results. It is my professional responsibility, I'm tasked by the Secretary of State and the President of the United States, to identify those organizations that are deserving to be put on the list of terrorist organizations. It is also my responsibility to identify those groups, when it's appropriate, to suggest and recommend that they be removed and this is not the case with the LTTE. They need, by word and deed to [renounce terrorism and] enter into good faith negotiations with the government, and until that happens, I personally and professionally am convinced that they are going to be on this list until that is done.
The global war on terrorism, from the American perspective, has come a long way since 9/11. We in the United States work both bi-laterally and internationally. We have good relationships with regional organizations. We support regional solutions to problems and play a key role in APEC and CTAG, and the Organization of the American States and the counterterrorism action group of the United Nations, the Counterterrorism Committee of the UN and the like. We utilize all elements of statecraft. Very often people assume that the American approach to terrorism is one heavily weighed to the military. This is incorrect. Our approach, as determined by the President of the United States, utilizes all elements of statecraft. It requires law enforcement, intelligence, financial activities involving our treasury department, and last, when appropriate, the military. But the first among equals is the statecraft in the Department of State that engages in diplomacy with our friends overseas that enables the element of statecraft to cooperate efficiently and effectively with their counterparts.
I'd also like to underscore that I raised with the Foreign Ministry here our continued concern regarding state sponsors of terrorism. Significant progress has been made in some areas. We are particularly encouraged by the recent actions of government of Libya, certainly in the area of weapons of mass destruction, and we seek to validate their claims [that they] no longer support terrorism, no longer maintain contacts with terrorist groups. In terms of Sudan, I think significant progress has been made, we're very heartened, and we participate in the community of nations to rally [others] to the cause of those in western Sudan that are facing severe crisis. Cuba continues to harbor certain terrorists. We know that they have facilitated the movement of Irish Republican Army trainers through Cuba to Colombia. We are mindful of the history of North Korea in the field of terrorism. We encourage the release of hostages to Japan, which is a good faith sign. We are deeply concerned about the continued support for international terrorism of Iran and Syria, their harboring of terrorist groups moving arms and weapons, and we call upon them to cease and desist in these actions.
So my visit here is to meet with my counterparts, to meet with representatives of the Sri Lanka government. I have thanked them and complimented them on the role they play in the global war on terrorism, with the United States and internationally in international fora, and it's a pleasure to be here. I will ask the Chargé d'Affaires if he has any remarks. Otherwise I'll be happy to try and answer your questions.
CHARGÉ D'AFFAIRES JAMES ENTWISTLE : Only to say that we are delighted to have Ambassador Black come for a visit, to have him be able to discuss at a high level our global war on terrorism with the Sri Lankan government, and to publicly make clear once again our position on the LTTE, that they need to renounce violence by word and deed and become a serious political player in the peace process.
QUESTION: Time and time again, Mr. Ambassador, you have, your government has reiterated the stance that the LTTE must lay down arms and renounce terrorism and join the democratic process. Before you recognize them, what movement is there towards, I mean, pushing the LTTE into that position?
AMBASSADOR BLACK: Well, the U.S. position on this is very clear. We made it clear to the media and we certainly made it clear to the government of Sri Lanka, they have our support in this. There's no question where we stand, there will be no compromise, there will be no wavering. Our policy is determined by the objective that the LTTE must negotiate with the government in good faith, but not just negotiate – it has to in good faith [renounce terrorism] in word and in deed. This is our view and we actively promote it, with our allies and with our international contacts in international fora.
QUESTION: A question on cooperation between the U.S. and Sri Lankan counterparts on curbing terrorism. Could you be a little specific on how the U.S. plans to -- I mean if the LTTE reneges on this occasion and it does not negotiate in good faith and pulls out on some flimsy grounds, and resumes war, or resumes hostilities -- what are the specific areas in which there will be certain you know, cooperation with the U.S. government to the Sri Lankan government?
AMBASSADOR BLACK: We support the government. We support the government in its efforts to create peace. The object is to have a situation of peace so that men and women of good will need not fear for their safety. The object is peace; to protect individuals on all sides, and that's what we strive to do, that's our objective. It's no small thing that the United States put the LTTE on our list of terrorist organizations. They are in the exalted company of the Al-Qaeda organization and the rest of them. It's a bad place to be.
QUESTION: Well, Mr. Ambassador, do you have any special plans with the government of Sri Lanka to defeat terrorism here?
AMBASSADOR BLACK: Our approach is to support the government. We have, certainly the government has, the will to resist terrorism, to engage in negotiations, good faith negotiations. We do have programs to support the government so that it could be in a position to negotiate effectively.
QUESTION: Despite the warnings by the U.S. to the LTTE to renounce violence, there have been so many instances of violence committed by the LTTE. Do you think that the U.S. and the international community have done enough to strengthen the hands of the legitimate state of Sri Lanka to negotiate with the LTTE from a strong position?
AMBASSADOR BLACK: We have a very good relationship with the government. We provide the type of support that puts it in a good position to negotiate. The object is peace, the object is not war, and we think that we have a good program in place with the government for these times. Were the times to change, the United States would have to reconsider the type of support it gives.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, do you find any evidence about links between the LTTE and Al-Qaeda?
AMBASSADOR BLACK: I am not exactly current, as I have been away from home. Put it this way, I am very disturbed at the LTTE's history as a terrorist organization. It has been a purveyor of training, knowledge, and equipment to a spectrum of terrorist groups, and we currently see many of these groups being mutually supporting. So you can play the game of one group connected to another to another, and I guess one could make connections, but I think that I would just rest on solid ground that the LTTE has been a disseminator of knowledge on how to conduct terrorist operations and has equipped other terrorist groups, which in and of itself is sufficient cause for alarm, and concern. The community of nations should attempt to constrain its activities, and do everything it can to bring them to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, one more question. Compared to Al-Qaeda, how do you see the LTTE? What is your assessment?
AMBASSADOR BLACK: My assessment? We could spend hours here making various different comparisons. When I travel around the world and talk to people, invariably people bring in localized factors about the Israelis and the Palestinians, or the Kashmiris. I am an Irish Catholic -- and in Ireland, when I go to where my forbears came from, they will say in the year 800 an Irish girl was raped here by the British and on and on and on. What is the important thing here? The protection of innocent men, women, and children. Let the politicians sit down like real adults, and negotiate solutions for the ages to protect people. The first element of this is the protection of innocent men and women and children.
Look at this horrific scene in Russia. I mean, what could possibly justify the mass murder of little children? Nothing, nothing at all, and that's what the business of international counterterrorism is about: to put these killers into a position where they are no longer hurting anybody, to get the politicians to resolve these causes that seem to incite some elements of society in some countries.
QUESTION: Just one question, related to Al-Qaeda. In Pakistan during a recent interview you said that bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader, could be arrested any moment – that you're trying to sort of localize him, if that is the exact expression you used. What [is the] progress since last Saturday?
AMBASSADOR BLACK: Thank you for the opportunity [to clarify]. It's unfortunate when you try and give a response to a question, and if you give five points people choose one of the five points that really may not be an accurate reflection of what I said, and what I wanted to say. Essentially this is what I was trying to say: Since 9/11 the President of the United States has spared no expense or resources to conduct the hunt against Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. This has been in conjunction with our friends overseas. Since 9/11, as our President recently said at the Republican National convention, about 35 percent of the Al-Qaeda leadership of the period of 9/11 has been arrested, detained or killed, more than 3,600 of their operatives and supporters are also out of the picture. The operational program, the global operational program, is in place right now. Resources have been allocated, both financial and personnel. These guys are deployed doing what they're meant to be doing –they're catching these guys left and right all over the planet.
It's very impressive, and as Americans we're very gratified and we're very appreciative, because most of the heavy lifting is done not by the United States but by our friends.
We have supported others and they've done a great job, particularly the Pakistanis, they have done a great job under the leadership of President Musharraf. So what I was trying to say is the program's in place, it's making great progress.
The difference between today, not having Osama bin Laden, and an hour from now, having Osama bin Laden, or tomorrow, or a week from now, or a month from now, or a year from now, is unpredictable. You just don't know. But it's not like we could devote more effort and more people. He's the most hunted man on the planet – maybe, ever. It is essentially only a matter of time, and it could be very soon. It could take longer, who can say? He and his senior leadership are primarily on the defensive, but they continue to be very dangerous. They're still able to plan and support attacks, but not as many as before. They're greatly diminished. They spend most of their time trying to keep from getting caught, which is a good thing, because it means they're not executing operations with the same volume and velocity as before to hurt innocent people. So the sense I'm trying to convey is everything that can be done is being done. He could be caught at any time.
I wouldn't be surprised if it was sooner or later, but that's the kind of sense I was trying to convey.
QUESTION: But there is no definite, I mean you cannot sort of like--
AMBASSADOR BLACK: Say, like tomorrow at three o'clock? Or if not then, the next day? No, unfortunately counterterrorism doesn't work that way. People watch too many movies or something, as if, if you just got by with a little less sleep and worked a little harder, then you would achieve the objective. You have to work hard and you have to spend a lot of money and resources, but there is an imprecision in the result. You put your resources out and it may happen quickly, it may take a while, but it can happen at any time. Does that make sense? Because that's what I was trying to convey.
QUESTION: That's not what was said in the news report.
AMBASSADOR BLACK: That would not be an accurate reflection of what I said, and that's what I was saying to you before. It's not like there's an impending [capture], such as tomorrow. That's incorrect. Everything that needs to be done has been done to allow us to catch him. Sooner or later, he will be caught, because the more aggressive you are in the hunt, the more defensive the guy becomes, and I'll tell you, when he gets caught, it's going to be like Saddam Hussein. He's going to be in a hole in the ground, not communicating, and have nobody around him. I mean, if you go in your backyard and you dig a hole and you hide in it, how's someone going to catch you if you don't communicate and have no contact with others? So as time goes on, the more defensive he becomes.
That's why it's harder – we've got a good system in place. And I'd also say that when he is caught, it would be very gratifying, it would be a good thing. People will be safer. But life will go on. There are a lot of other people to catch, a lot of terrorists to stalk, and a lot of innocent people that need to be protected. It's not by any means “oh well, he's caught, it's all over, the Americans can now go home.” Uh-uh. No, no, no.
QUESTION: What's your assessment about the government intelligence service, especially of the Army and the police?
AMBASSADOR BLACK: Here, in Sri Lanka? I am an official of the Department of State engaged in diplomacy. I leave intelligence to others. It's not right for me to talk about intelligence services to the press. You'd have to leave that to the Ambassador or the Chargé, but I'm not going to talk about intelligence today.
QUESTION: Is there any sort of comparing of notes? I mean, there's always accusations that counterintelligence isn't up to the mark, and it's not really there.
CHARGÉ ENTWISTLE: Let me just say that we enjoy superb cooperation with your government in a wide variety of areas and with many different parts of the government, and that's really all I can say in this setting.
Released on September 8, 2004