President Mahinda Rajapaksa will go ahead with his visit to Iran later this month amidst denials by the US that it had requested him not to travel to the country. The United States, increasingly agitated by defiant Teheran proceeding with its controversial Uranium enrichment programme, which many in the west see as heading in the direction of building atomic weapons, recently intensified its sanctions against that country along with its war of words, claiming that it has not removed the military option from the table.
There were earlier reports that the US had requested President Rajapaksa not to travel to Iran. Sources said the President would first attend the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government summit in Kampala, Uganda from November 23 to 25 and most likely proceed to Teheran thereafter. The actual dates are being kept a secret for security reasons.
Government sources said last night that the objective of this visit was not to antagonize anyone in the West as the genuine intention of the government was to be good with everyone. They pointed out that unlike countries that played double games when it came to tackling terrorism, Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to express support to the West in the aftermath of 9/11and took concrete steps against Al Qaeda.
`We have been playing our role to the hilt in fighting global terrorism. The US should not be unduly suspicious. The VOA has been operating from Ekala for decades,` they said. Sounding rather bitter, these sources said those who had been taking Sri Lanka to the cleaners in recent times on human rights issues had been doing so in bad faith. And they were not unduly alarmed at such tactics for the simple reason: `We know our bread is from the East and that is the new reality.`
They said that though there was a lot of thunader from the West there was very little rain. In aid terms US gives about $5 million per year to Sri Lanka, while the EU extended about Euro 129 million for four years and Britain had given less than two million pounds per year. In comparison Japan gave about $900 million, China $600 million and India $250 million per year.
Besides sources said Sri Lanka had to take into consideration the fact that 40 per cent of the country`s oil requirements came from Teheran and 20 per cent of Sri Lanka`s tea was sold to Iran. And Sapugaskanda is geared to refine Iranian oil and if we don`t get Iranian oil that refinery might have to be closed down.
The Sunday Times learns that the President`s forthcoming visits to Iran and Uganda will include only a small delegation, unlike his previous delegations when touring abroad. Even the media team will be restricted to no more than four people. The delegation is expected to be announced next week.
The US embassy in Colombo contacted in this regard said it `does not discuss private exchanges with other governments, including with our friends. However, our concerns about Iran are well known and with any sovereign government Sri Lanka will make its own decisions about how to conduct its foreign affairs`.