A Sri Lankan Minister said that Indian High Commissioner is trying to sell a compromise under which regional commands would be carved out of the Defense Ministry and put under the PM's control.

12953 12/29/2003 7:12 03COLOMBO2183 Embassy Colombo CONFIDENTIAL 03State348254 "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 002183

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR D, SA, SA/INS NSC FOR E. MILLARD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12-29-13 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINS, CE, NO, JA, EU, IN SUBJECT: Minister Moragoda reviews upcoming visit to Washington in meeting with the Ambassador

Refs: (A) State 348254

- (B) State 348253 - (C) Colombo 2179, and previous

(U) Classified by Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead. Reasons 1.5 (b, d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: Milinda Moragoda told Ambassador December 26 that he is going to Washington to: -- make sure it is understood the PM is not to blame for the current impasse -- ask for US pressure on President Kumaratunga to compromise -- ask the US to push for a high-level Tokyo Co-Chairs meeting around the end of January.

Moragoda also said that Indian High Commissioner is trying to sell a compromise under which regional commands would be carved out of the Defense Ministry and put under the PM's control. The Indians may push this with the President at the SAARC Summit in Islamabad. The PM is not enthused about the idea, but is willing to consider it. The PM still thinks, however, that elections may be the answer. Moragoda will travel to Oslo after Washington. Ambassador told Moragoda that we understood clearly that the President had caused the current crisis, but that he believed the President was sending a message to the PM that she would not sit quietly for the last two years of her Presidency, and there would be no solution until the PM acknowledged that. He also thought that an election would not likely have a positive result. END SUMMARY

Indians at Work

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2. (C) Milinda Moragoda, key advisor to the Prime Minister, came to see the Ambassador evening of December 26 to preview his upcoming visit to Washington to see the Deputy Secretary. Moragoda said that the only thing happening at this time to try to resolve the political stalemate was a proposal being brokered by Indian High Commissioner Sen following his consultations in Delhi. Sen was pushing the idea that two regional commands (for the North and the East, presumably) could be carved out of the Defense Ministry and put under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's control. This would give him the operational control he needed to resume the peace negotiations. Milinda did not know if this idea would fly. Even the PM was not fully convinced it was useful, but he was willing to let Sen try it out on the President. Milinda thought that the Indians would push this idea with President Chandrika Bandarnaike Kumaratunga (CBK) at the SAARC summit in Islamabad in early January. Milinda said he thought the PM was willing to let the Indians play this out. Milinda also said, as he has before, that he thought any deal would last only if the Indians agreed to ""underpin"" it. Ambassador tried to get Milinda to elaborate on what this meant, but he was unable to do so.

Co-Chairs Meeting?

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3. (C) Milinda said that he had three purposes for his Washington trip and meeting with the Deputy Secretary. He wanted to convey:

-- First, the PM's desire that the international community understand that it was the President who had caused this crisis and her obstinacy which was prolonging it.

-- Second, that the international community needed to put pressure on the President.

-- Third, that the PM believed a high-level Co-Chairs meeting at the end of January would help to apply such pressure and also be a useful opportunity to take stock on assistance issues.

Ambassador said that we understood clearly that the President had caused the crisis, but that our public statements had to be relatively even-handed. If the US and the rest of the international community tried to put overt and unequal pressure on the President, she might become even more obstinate. Moreover, the international pressure would then itself become an issue within Sri Lanka. Milinda said that the PM believed the President would buckle under foreign pressure.

4. (C) With regard to the proposed high-level Co-Chairs meeting, Moragoda said that the end of January might be a good time, as it would allow the Indians to play out their initiative first. In addition to putting pressure on the President, he said, it would allow the donors a chance to take stock of the assistance process and see where they wished to go under the current circumstances. Ambassador noted that the Japanese might be opposed to such a meeting. In addition, he said, it was not clear where such a meeting would come out. Norwegian Ambassador Brattskar, for instance, had lately been musing that a Co-Chairs meeting might be a good idea, and that one result might be a decision by donors to increase their project implementation in LTTE areas, since it was the Government which was now holding up the peace process! Would the PM want such an outcome at this time?

What Does the President Want?

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5. (C) Ambassador and Milinda reviewed briefly the sequence of events leading to the current impasse. Ambassador said again that we recognized fully who bore the blame for the current crisis. However, he said, he was convinced from his conversations with the President that the impulse behind her actions was to assert to the PM that she would not consent to be sidelined for the last two years of her Presidency. (By law, the President cannot run for a third term.) While we understood the PM's need to have clarity of control of the Defense establishment, the Ambassador said that he did not think the President would agree to any deal which did not give her the respect she believed she deserved. And as President, she was in a position to block the PM indefinitely. Rights and wrongs aside, that was a plain fact which could not be ignored. Milinda said he understood the point.

How About Elections?

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6. (C) Milinda said the PM was still thinking about trying to force the President to dissolve Parliament and go for new elections. The PM would present such an election as a referendum on his performance. Milinda and the Ambassador agreed that even if the PM's United National Party (UNP) were to increase its margin by a few seats (a large increase is unlikely in Sri Lanka's proportional representation system), the President would still maintain that she had her own mandate and would be unlikely to simply concede to the PM. Moreover, one possible outcome of a new election would be an increase in seats for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), heavily influenced by the LTTE, and the Sinhalese nationalist Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). The result could well be a hung Parliament with these two parties controlling the balance of power. This would be a markedly worse situation for the Peace Process.

On to Oslo

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7. (C) Milinda said that he would travel to Oslo after Washington to meet with the Norwegian facilitators. He did not plan to travel to Brussels to meet with the EU at this time, as Chris Patten had just been in Colombo. Milinda also said that the EU was about to name a Special Representative to handle Sri Lankan issues. Ambassador closed by noting again that we understood clearly the respective roles of the PM and the President in this crisis, that we had emphasized to the President the need for her to compromise, and that we would look for ways to reinforce that message, including possibly delivering it from a higher level. (This conversation occurred before we saw Refs A and B, which contain the messages from Secretary Powell to the PM and the President.)

Ambassador's Comment

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8. (C) There are essentially three options at this time:

(1) continued drift (2) elections (3) compromise.

The first two are not acceptable, leaving us with only compromise. I believe that Milinda needs to get a tough love message to bring back to the PM. He needs to hear that we respect him and do not blame him for the current impasse, but that elections will not solve anything and that he will need to give some meaningful role to the President if he expects her to give him back operational control over Defense. We have urged her to compromise, and will continue to do so, but she will not listen to us if we ask her to consent to her own political oblivion. I have requested an appointment with the President to deliver Secretary Powell's letter, hopefully before she departs for the SAARC summit. I continue to remain unconvinced of the value of a high- level Co-Chairs meeting at this time. The focus of this issue has to be here in Colombo, not in Oslo/Tokyo/Washington. END COMMENT

9. (U) Minimize considered.

LUNSTEAD