During her 24-hour Bangladesh visit, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocated unity among political parties and spoke against ‘harsh' political programmes such as hartals, calling for peaceful handling of political rivalries.
Ms. Clinton met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, opposition leader Khaleda Zia, Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) founder Sir Fazle Hasan Abed and held an official meeting with her counterpart Dipu Moni. She also met top bureaucrats and youth leaders.
She expressed concern over the disappearance of BNP leader Ilias Ali and the killing of a labour leader Aminul Islam, and called for an independent probe into the incidents.
“We urge all political actors to work together regardless of their differences. All political actors must work together for constructive dialogue so that democracy gets a sustained path,” she told a joint press briefing at the Prime Minister's Office after a 75-minute meeting with Ms. Moni.
During a meeting with Ms. Hasina, Ms. Clinton lauded Bangladesh's initiative for regional connectivity with India, Nepal and Bhutan, and said the country would benefit immensely from this due to its geographical location. Ms. Hasina told Ms. Clinton that her government adopted zero tolerance to terrorism.
Ms. Clinton and Ms. Moni signed the “Joint Declaration on Bangladesh-U.S. Dialogue on Partnership” to hold annual dialogue on bilateral relations and priorities in Dhaka and Washington DC by turns.
“We want to see Bangladesh as a prosperous democratic country despite challenges of the democratic process,” said Ms. Hillary.
She also stressed the need for consensus among all in Bangladesh on fundamental issues for the sake of democracy, sustainable development and the rule of law. “We came as a friend and partner…we raise these issues as we are friend and partner of Bangladesh.”
To a query on the security in the Bay of Bengal, Ms. Clinton commended the present government for its policy of zero tolerance to terrorists, and said it prevented them from using Bangladesh as a transit and training point to commit violence against Bangladesh or any other country.
On the security dialogue held last month, she said both sides had very positive discussions on bilateral defence cooperation and shared the values of peace and stability in the region.
Ms. Clinton's seven-member delegation included Robert O Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, and Dan Mozena, U.S. Ambassador in Dhaka. Bangladesh sought duty-free and quota-free access of its products to the U.S. market and extension of the GSP facilities. Inclusion in the Millennium Challenge Account and repatriation of a convicted killer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were raised during the talks.
At the meeting with Muhammad Yunus and Fazle Hasan Abed, Ms. Clinton reiterated her call for a peaceful solution to Bangladesh's ongoing political impasse for holding a free and fair election. The talks were held at the residence of Mr. Mozena.
On the Grameen Bank, she said the Bangladesh government should allow the organisation to operate freely.
At another function, she remarked: “I can only hope nothing is done in any way that undermines the success of Grameen Bank. I highly respect Mohammad Yunus. I hope it will continue without being undermined or affected by any government action. That would be unfortunate,” she added.
The former Managing Director of Grameen Bank, Prof. Muhammad Yunus, is well known as a family friend of the Clintons.
Mr. Yunus told reporters after the talks, “We discussed the country's political scenario. We also discussed microcredit and Grameen Bank.” He and Mr. Abed sought Ms. Clinton's attention in establishing a regional energy network with Nepal and Myanmar.
The meeting between Prof. Yunus and Ms. Clinton, came almost a year after Prof. Yunus had to resign from the Bank and lost all legal battles to regain his position.
During a question-answer session at a meeting organised by the U.S. embassy in Dhaka, Ms. Clinton termed Prof. Yunus and Mr. Abed as ‘national treasures' and said they had created two of the world's best organisations — Grameen Bank and BRAC. She said the Grameen Bank had played a vital role in changing the daily lives of poor rural women.
Citing the recent murder of labour organiser Aminul Islam, she said, “Islam's killing has to be investigated and the perpetrators must be brought to book.”
“It would give a wrong message to the Americans if the government fails to probe into the murder and find out the culprits.”
Mr. Islam went missing in the first week of April and his body was found later.
This story was corrected on May 7, 2012 for factual error