US embassy cable - 04COLOMBO51

In meeting with Ambassador, Prime Minister ponders delay in resolution of Defence Ministry question

Identifier: 04COLOMBO51
Wikileaks: View 04COLOMBO51 at
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2004-01-12 10:00:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL PINS PINR CE Political Parties Elections
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000051 
E.O. 12958:   DECL:  01-12-14 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINS, PINR, CE, Political Parties, Elections 
SUBJECT:  In meeting with Ambassador, Prime Minister 
ponders delay in resolution of Defence Ministry question 
Refs:  Colombo 44, and previous 
(U) Classified by Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead. 
Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 
1.  (C) SUMMARY:  Prime Minister told the Ambassador 
January 10 that it was up to the President to make a new 
offer on how to deal with the Defense portfolio.  In the 
meantime, he is offering power-sharing at the Provincial 
level.  It appears both sides are waiting to gauge their 
strength in the April 10 Provincial Elections.  END 
A New Proposal 
2.  (C) The Ambassador was called in to see Prime 
Minister Wickremesinghe on the afternoon of Saturday, 
January 10.  Milinda Moragoda was also present.  The 
meeting began with the participants exchanging thoughts 
on the books they had read over the Christmas/New Year's 
lull, with the PM noting in particular a biography of 
Franklin Roosevelt.  The PM then turned to the purpose 
of the meeting, saying that he was at an impasse with 
the President.  He had decided, therefore, to try to 
deal with the broader issue of cooperation, and leave 
Defense and the Peace Process for later.  He would make 
a proposal to her that for the upcoming Provincial 
Elections (now proposed to be held simultaneously in all 
provinces on April 10), the United National Party (UNP) 
and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) agree that the 
losing party would be offered two provincial ministries, 
perhaps even including the Chief Ministership.  Of 
course, the PM said, this meant that the SLFP would have 
to give up its plans for an electoral alliance with the 
Sinhalese-radical Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).  If 
the two sides could work together like this in the 
Provinces, then they could do so in the Center also. 
Some SLFP politicians could become Central Ministers, 
but with at least 40 SLFP'ers remaining as the official 
Opposition, so that the JVP could not claim that role. 
If all of this worked, then they could find a way to 
handle Defense. 
3.  (C) The Ambassador said that he wanted to be sure 
the PM realized two things before going into a 
discussion of the current issue.  First was that we 
believed that what he and his government had done in the 
past two years on peace and on bringing Sri Lanka into 
the modern economic world were unprecedented.  Second, 
that we were clear that it was the President who had 
precipitated the current crisis.  That being said, both 
the peace process and economic reform were at risk, and 
the challenge now was to find a way forward. 
4.  (C) The Ambassador then described his December 26 
meeting with the President when he had handed over the 
letter from Secretary Powell.  The Ambassador told the 
PM that he had pressed the President hard to come up 
with a bold political approach to resolve the crisis, 
and that she had resisted initially but finally conceded 
she might have some new ideas.  What was the PM's 
thinking now on Defense?  Was the Indian idea of 
constituting separate theater commands still in play? 
5.  (C) The PM said that he had made a proposal on how 
to handle Defense issues, which the President had 
rejected.  Elaborating, the PM said that under his plan 
the President could remain as Secretary of Defense, he 
would be Minister of National Security and (former 
Defense Minister) Tilak Marapana would be named Minister 
Assisting Defense.  The entire Defense establishment 
(Army, Navy, Air Force) would be put under the PM's 
control ("gazetted" to him).  All operational matters 
would fall under Marapana.  The President would chair 
the National Security Council.  This would be similar to 
the French system, he said, where there is a "Minister 
of Armies."   He did not think the Indian proposal for 
separate theater commands, which would be gazetted to 
him, would work.  Nor could he accept her proposal to 
gazette to him specific Defense functions relating to 
the peace process.  He had made his offer, it was now up 
to her to come up with something new.  Since he could 
not administer the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) without 
full defense powers, he had asked her to sit down with 
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), amend the 
CFA, and take it over. 
6.  (C) The Ambassador repeated that he had urged the 
President to look at the matter as a political, not a 
legal issue, and that he had also urged her to think of 
a way to bridge the gap.  The two sides had actually 
made some progress, he said, and now seemed stuck on 
what would be gazetted to the PM.  The PM wanted the 
Armed Services in toto under his control; she wanted to 
gazette certain Armed Services functions.  Perhaps there 
was an answer in there. 
7.  (C) The PM said that he thought that the President 
was really concerned about what happened to her when her 
present term ended.  The Ambassador said he believed 
that was correct, but that there was an additional 
factor.  From his conversations with the President, he 
said, he believed the underlying motivation for her 
actions was to send a message that she would not be 
treated in the last two years of her Presidency as she 
was in the preceding two years.  PM accepted this, but 
said that if she wanted Ministers to treat her with 
respect, she also had to treat them properly. 
Akashi Visit and High-level Co-chairs Meeting 
8.  (C) The conversation then shifted to the upcoming 
(January 19-25) visit of Japanese Special Envoy Akashi 
and the proposed early-February High-level Co-chairs 
meeting in Washington.  Discussion in Septel. 
It's the PM's Call 
9.  (C) As the meeting concluded, Milinda said that the 
PM was glad to hear our views, that he heard a lot of 
views, including Milinda's own, as well as those of 
other Ministers.  In the end, however, only the PM could 
make the decision.  It was his government and his 
political future.  The Ambassador replied that we 
understood completely that it was his country, his 
issue, and needed his solution.  Moragoda asked that the 
Ambassador convey to Assistant Secretary Rocca that her 
comments to Ambassador Subasinghe had been heard. 
10. (C) Unless there is some sudden and unexpected 
breakthrough on the Defense side, it appears almost 
certain that we are set for a period of drift at least 
until the provincial elections are concluded.  The PM's 
proposal for power-sharing at the provincial level is 
quite vague.  It also has a poison pill attached in the 
requirement that the SLFP give up its proposed alliance 
with the JVP.  All that said, we remain convinced that 
the two sides could bridge the gap on defense and come 
to an earlier understanding -- if they can summon the 
will to do so.  Indian High Commissioner Sen, whom the 
Ambassador saw the evening previous, was quite 
pessimistic, although that may be because he is wedded 
to his theater concept. 
Just Do Nothing? 
11.  (C) As the Ambassador left, the PM commented again 
on his vacation reading.  He said that one thing he had 
learned from the Franklin Roosevelt biography was that 
for a lot of the time "Roosevelt just did nothing." 
That might be the wrong inspiration to take from that 
12.  (U) Minimize considered. 

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