Senior defense and political columnist Iqbal Athas in an interview this morning said U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo cancelled his visit to Sri Lanka because the U.S. failed to persuade Sri Lanka to accept SOFA/VFA – the Status of or Visiting Forces Agreement.
“His visit to Sri Lanka was to be for 3.5 hours, during which he was even planning to visit Trincomalee. However it was called off last minute,” Athas told adding, if Pompeo’s visit had gone ahead. moves were in place to close down shops, put up black flags and stage a harthal in the area.
The U.S. Embassy however said Pompeo’s visit was cancelled due to scheduling issues.
“Pompeo ended up cancelling the visit because they could not persuade Sri Lanka to accept SoFA,” Athas said this morning, speaking lengthily of the dangers of defense commitments Sri Lanka has made with the U.S. resulting in a grave blow to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
Making a ‘one-time-only’ appearance in the Pathikada current affairs discussion this morning he revealed details of underhand moves by the U.S. to ensure passing of SOFA.
Athas notes the U.S. has informed the Government of Sri Lanka there is no need to even formally sign the SOFA/VFA and that a letter from GoSL would suffice stating that Sri Lanka agrees to all the points and conditions laid out in the SOFA.
“This preposition by the U.S. – the fact that a letter by itself would suffice to activate SOFA – speaks of the deterioration of our security system,” Athas pointed out.
The senior columnist also revealed details of the way U.S. exploited ‘divided loyalties’ of officials in state service to carefully manipulate the government into signing the defense pact ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Services Agreement).
Athas said the copy of ACSA agreement tabled before the cabinet had been craftily submitted in a way that the Sinhala and English versions were different to one another.
“The Sinhala copies had only eight pages but the English copy contained 83 pages… Most of the Ministers read only the Sinhala version,” Athas revealed. The new ACSA was signed as an open ended bilateral pact as opposed to the same agreement signed by Gota in 2007 which expired in 2017.
He also notes – as extensively pointed out in his weekly Sunday Times columns – that U.S. deployed a whole host of government officials including then Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam and even then Foreign Minister Mangala Samraweera, to push forward ACSA.
“I know of an instance that Kariyawasam flew down from Washington to specifically expedite the approval,” he told this morning.
Athas points out that by hoodwinking the cabinet and getting the ACSA signed, Sri Lanka has committed itself to accommodating a US military footprint and to move troops and ammunition any time in Lankan territory in respect of a combat issue.
“Why are we opening our country up for this and creating suspicions in our neighbourhood?” he questioned.
Meanwhile, President Sirisena during his meeting with the media heads this morning stressed about how he is completely against the ACSA and the SOFA and would not allow SOFA to be signed.