“There are members in this hall today who believe passionately that the United States and its allies were wrong to intervene in Iraq. Then there those of us who feel that the United States and their allies had no choice but to intervene, that the failure of the United Nations had created the need for a world policeman however reluctant it might be.”
This statement, made by Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in October 2003, drew strong criticism from Sri Lanka’s political parties. Ranil’s speech was condemned by then-President Chandrika, as well as the main opposition United People’s Freedom Alliance and Janata Vimukti Peramuna. They accused Ranil of attempting to sway Sri Lanka’s foreign policy in favour of the United States. Ranil had a meeting with newspaper editors with him and claimed that the media had distorted his UN story. Ranil told the editors that he did not make a speech in support of the US invasion of Iraq. This controversial policy of Ranil was mentioned in a Wikileaks cable message, which is included below.
‘Since coming to power, PM Wickremesinghe has taken steps to steer Sri Lankan foreign policy closer to the U.S. In doing this, he has had successes, including the signing of an ICC waiver with the U.S. and in regard to Iraq where the GSL steered a constructive course. Moreover, one of his key ministers recently proposed that the GSL take the lead in forming some sort of counterweight to NAM. That said, the PM’s initiative has faced stiff resistance from MFA bureaucrats. In addition, the president and Opposition, backed by much of the press and the intelligentsia, have cut into his room for manoeuvre via their generally anti-U.S. biases.
2. (C) In the post-Iraq war environment, we think the GSL will continue to want to draw closer to the U.S. With the PM facing a precarious cohabitation situation, however, additional steps toward the USG will have to be carefully plotted out. Nonetheless, with Sri Lanka facing a difficult peace process and needing help to constrain the Tamil Tigers, we think the larger trend in the country provides ballast for the PM’s pro-U.S Proclivities.’
Due to this speech of Ranil, the Muslim parties supporting Ranil’s government were in a lot of trouble. The then President Chandrika indicated she needed to address the correct position of Sri Lanka to the UN on the Iraq issue but the Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN did not allow it. Although she asked for an opportunity to speak together, the U.N. Sri Lankan ambassador prevented it. On October 5, 2003, the Sunday Times newspaper reported that Ranil’s speech was written by Nirj Deva Aditya, a member of the European Union Parliament at that time.
Nirj Deva Aditya is still Ranil’s international adviser it is not known if he is writing Ranil’s speeches. But Ranil this time in the UN made a completely different speech than the one in 2003. Ranil criticised the US in the UN and again last week, strongly criticized the Israel attack on Palestine and the Western countries, including the United States, for supporting it. He said that before the Western countries including America talk about human rights in Sri Lanka, should talk against the human rights violations in Palestine by Israel.
The time difference between 2003 and 2023 is 20 years. Ranil’s change during these 20 years is intriguing. In 20 years, Ranil’s transformation from a pro-American to an anti-American cannot be believed even by Ranil’s closest friends. There are two reasons for Ranil’s anti-Americanism. The first is to show China that he is not pro-American. The second is that he wanted to be popular among the Padujana Peramuna anti-American vote base. Chinese sympathizer Wimal Weerawansa, who went to China with Ranil, said that Ranil has not won China’s trust yet. It is not known how long Ranil will have to criticise America to win Chinese trust. A former ambassador of China to Sri Lanka told a story about the Chinese policy towards third-world countries to a Sri Lankan businessman. He said that China knows how to bring countries to their knees that consider China as an opponent and then try to befriend them for their benefit. It is unknown if China is doing the same to Ranil.