Interview with TBS-TV (Tokyo Broadcasting System)Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy Tokyo
June 10, 2003
QUESTION: Thank you Deputy Secretary.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you for having me.
QUESTION: Tokyo Conference has agreed to give financial support or every kind of support to Sri Lanka totaling the amount of $4.5 billion. At the outset, can I ask you your evaluation of the outcome of this conference?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think the amount of money, US$4.5 billion pledged over four years, exceeded both the stated needs of the Sri Lankan government and the wildest expectations of the organizers. I think it's a fantastic tribute to Tokyo, and to the government of Japan, for organizing and carrying through with this conference. I think some of success has to do with the fact that Prime Minister Koizumi kicked off the conference on the first day.
QUESTION: I myself have been committed to the Sri Lankan issue and to my eyes it is quite surprising that the United States has not been so eager to commit to the Sri Lankan issue. Are there any good reasons to change your policy?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: As a matter of fact, because of the nagging, neuralgic war that was dragging on for almost twenty years, the United States, about two or two and a half years ago, was thinking about stopping our assistance program. When the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came into office, he seemed to offer a real chance for peace. We re-evaluated and we think that Sri Lanka, which becomes a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society which can be involved successfully in conflict resolution -- that could be a great, great signal for the rest of the world. We are in for the long haul now.
QUESTION: When it comes to southwest Asia -- India and Pakistan including Afghanistan and some people include Iran -- in light of the current situation, the United States has made a great success in Afghanistan, still the bilateral relations between Pakistan and India is a flashpoint in the region. In that context, has the United States turned its eyes to Sri Lanka?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Not quite in the context of South Asia. We see Sri Lanka in the context as I have described -- the possibility of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy, successfully resolving a very neuralgic conflict. Now the question of India and Pakistan is in a way a more heated one because of the possession of nuclear weapons. The British and the U.S. governments spent a lot of our time and energy trying to lower the temperature. I think we've been successful, but more importantly the two governments in Islamabad and in Delhi have decided to reason there way through these problems. That is a good thing for all of us. By the way, you were very kind to mention the success in Afghanistan, that's not over yet. But Japan has played a role in Afghanistan -- a role both in providing assistance to Pakistan -- which is related -- and in provision of assistance to build the Kabul-to-Kandahar road, which is extremely important to the government of Hamid Karzai.
QUESTION: Deputy Secretary, you pointed out the role of Japan to be played in that region. Japan previously hosted the peace process in Aceh, in Indonesia, until finally it collapsed. This time Tokyo, our government, hosted this conference which has been highly interesting and of great importance. Mr. Deputy Secretary, what kind of role should Japan play, what initiative, when it comes to the Sri Lankan issue?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think the role right now is an appropriate role. We have a facilitator and that is Norway. We have the two sides to the question -- the government and the LTTE. Japan has, I think, applied both her political and diplomatic muscle as well as a good contribution of assistance following Mr. Koizumi's constructive peace initiative. I think you play both an appropriate role and one that is extraordinarily helpful. I don't think there is anything else envisioned.
QUESTION: Although the Tokyo Conference declares US$4.5 billion, on the other hand LTTE, as you mentioned, did not attend this meeting, so it means that the peace process or peace solution has not yet been attained.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: That is exactly correct.
QUESTION: Under such circumstances, what kind of role or initiative is the U.S. government taking?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: As I say, the facilitator in this is Norway. The role of the U.S. government is actually, in a way, to be the bad guy. We have designated the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organization. They will not be eligible to visit our country or have visas, etc. In fact we will hunt them down and try to stop their finances if we can catch them. We would like them to work into a situation in which they are no longer a foreign terrorist organization. They could do that by giving up, once and for all, violence as a political weapon.
QUESTION: LTTE or Tamil people have their historical or religious background basis in India. Initially they came from Tamil of the southern part of India so influence of the Indian government is vitally important to realize a cease-fire or peace process. Deputy Secretary, the U.S. government, you having a shuttle diplomacy between Islamabad and Delhi. Do you have any concrete plan, you yourself, to visit Colombo -- the capital of Sri Lanka?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I visited not too long ago, and was involved in some de-mining projects there. You are exactly right about the role of India. India is Sri Lanka's second largest business partner, after the United States, and has a lot of influence. Of course, India had a very of bad experience after introducing peace keeping forces for several years and having them very bloodied trying to bring about a better situation. I know that the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe keeps Indian officials well advised of the status of talks and the status of deliberations in Colombo. I think that is the proper way ahead.
QUESTION: Allow me to get back to the initial question. Southwest Asia, which has not been a stable region for U.S. or Japan or the western countries, we have a lot to do that has remained untouched. In that context, at the same time southwest Asia is one of the flashpoints of the world -- while both India and Pakistan have been competing with each other for nuclear development, we turn our ideas to northeast Asia. The southeast is OK, but the northeast -- like the Korean peninsula, also the flashpoint of the world.... For the United States, which region is more vitally important, more pending or menacing?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't think you can make a choice. If you make a choice, you condemn perhaps one region to a bad fate. In 1950, a famous statement was made that Korea was outside our area of vital interests and, shortly thereafter, the North Koreans attacked. It would not be a good policy to try to pick one over the other. The fact of the matter is we have nuclear concerns in the DPRK, North Korea, we also have nuclear flashpoint concerns with India and Pakistan, and we have real terrorism concerns with Afghanistan. So we can't chose between them. We have to try to resolve both at the same time. There is no other choice.
QUESTION: Does the Bush administration still sees Asia as vitally important?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Absolutely, there is no question about it. Although it may seem difficult to be able to concentrate on North Korea at one time and southwest Asia at another and indeed Iraq a third, I can assure you that the administration of George Bush is capable of doing more than one thing at the same time.
QUESTION: Lastly, do you believe that the peaceful solution or diplomacy can be effective to sort it out and attain peace in Sri Lanka?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yes, I do indeed. I think that that was the overwhelming sentiment voiced by the 51 donor nations who attended the Tokyo Conference and the more than 20 international financial institutions. They are all voting with their pocket books, with their wallets, saying that they believe that Sri Lankans will be successful. They are also saying that history will judge very harshly those who do not take advantage of this time for peace.
QUESTION: Needless to say, not only the Sri Lankan issue, but also the world conflict ethical issues or conflicts -- Palestine, Israel. Tamil people and Sinhalese people have a long history of mistrust; it might be quite difficult to reconsider.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yes, it might be difficult, but it is more than Sinhalese and Tamil. It is Christian and Muslim and Buddhist and Hindu. We have a mix of religious and ethnic tensions. That is why I say that it is so important, and it will be such an important achievement for the world if Sri Lankans themselves are able to resolve their differences. This will be a tremendous signal for the world.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Deputy Secretary.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you, sir.