COLOMBO: Fuelling a domestic civil war which gets bloodier by the hour, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy under President Mahinda Rajapakse has been tilted heavily towards what the UPFA government describes as ‘non-preaching’ countries such as China, Myanmar, or Pakistan and now there is another friend, Iran who has been clutched to Sri Lanka’s bosom.
Iran and Sri Lanka are committed to protecting each others territorial integrity and security, visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in Colombo on Monday hours after he was greeted at the Bandaranaike International Airport by President Rajapakse.
A statement issued by the two countries said Sri Lanka supported the peaceful use of nuclear energy by Iran, within the framework of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Addressing a joint news conference with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, Ahmadinejad said that comprehensive cooperation between the two countries would provide security for both in their endeavour to ‘seek justice and fair play in the world.’
“Sri Lanka and Iran have agreed to cooperate in all spheres for the mutual benefit of each other,” the Iranian President said emphasising that Iran was happy to assist a ‘long standing friend such as Sri Lanka’ and carry out ‘mutual consultation and cooperation.’
On Tuesday, the Iranian President launched a project to boost the capacity of Sri Lanka’s main oil refinery as part of a $1.5 billion loan to the UPFA government. Six agreements have been signed by the two sides including the facilitation of concessionary terms by Iran to purchase oil and the setting up of a ‘Iranian Club’ in the Biyagama area of Sri Lanka.
The joint statement by the two countries, which was released at the conclusion of the Iranian President’s visit, stated that the two sides reiterated the importance of global nuclear disarmament, particularly the need for the nuclear powers to destroy their nuclear weapons, based on the decisions of the relevant international meetings.
The communiqué also expressed the recognition of the inalienable rights and the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stressed the need for security and peace in Lebanon and emphasised the need for the preservation of the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq.
The press release further said that Iran and Sri Lanka supported, as a matter of priority, the endeavours of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to restore peace and stability.
As western diplomats privately raised eyebrows at Sri Lanka’s all encompassing embrace of Iran, Lankan authorities explain why cultivating a close friendship with that country is important to Sri Lanka. “Iran is the sole supplier of crude oil for the only refinery in Sri Lanka in Sapugaskanda. The oil made available to Sri Lanka is given on easy payment basis and is a boon in a situation where we are compelled to spend exorbitant amounts fighting the Tamil Tigers”, an aide close to President Rajapakse said referring to the island’s protracted battle with the LTTE guerillas who are fighting for a separate north eastern homeland.
Meanwhile, government officials are busy reiterating why Sri Lanka prefers the company of its ‘non-preaching’ Asian cohabitants rather than the West whose critical focus on the country has only got sharper as Sri Lanka’s war spirals and its human rights record further deteriorates.
“In Asia, there is no superiority complex. Asian leaders are not obsessed with preaching like the West is,” a senior government official said as economists point out that it is no secret that Sri Lanka has taken its war drained financial woes to Asia in a background where the emphatically anti- war West has threatened to cut aid and remove concessions. As military analysts point out, while Sri Lanka’s primary reason for bonding with Iran is oil, where countries such as China and Pakistan are concerned it is the military factor that motivates the relationship. With western countries as well as neighbouring India refusing to sell arms to Sri Lanka to fight the Tamil Tiger rebels, President Rajapakse has only countries such as China and Pakistan to turn to. Records indicate that in the past one and a half years Rajapaksa had visited China twice and also neighbouring India and Pakistan as well as Iran.