PM, Vasu clash over US ship

By Saman Indrajith

An argument broke out between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara in Parliament yesterday over providing logistical support to the US navy ships operating in the Indian Ocean.

The UPFA MP raised a question on an agreement signed between Sri Lanka and the US Embassy in 2018, but the PM said that the pact MP Nanayakkara referred to had been signed in 1995. MP Nanayakkara, referring to a newspaper report on the US Navy aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis establishing a logistics hub in Sri Lanka, questioned whether it had got the Cabinet approval.

He asked why Parliament had not been informed about it.

MP Nanayakkara said: “The hub established on a temporary basis provides logistics support to the US navy ships operating in the Indian Ocean. The primary purpose of the operation is to provide mission critical supplies and services to US navy ships transiting through and operating in the Indian Ocean. Does this agreement comply with the Constitution’s provisions on sovereignty and non-aligned foreign policy? Doesn’t it pose a security threat for Sri Lanka?”

The PM replied that not only the US Navy, but also any other country’s Navy could get logistic supplies from any port or airport of the country. “The US Navy’s main supplies centre in the Indian Ocean is in Diego Garcia. Other countries temporarily provide those facilities when necessary. The US doesn’t have large bases because of modern technology. The US Gerald Ford aircraft carrier carries more aircraft than all what Sri Lanka Air force has. It did not come here permanently. We do not permit to bring weapons.”

The PM said that the Foreign Ministry had received a letter on August 28, 2018 seeking renewal of the 1995 agreement and that it had also referred to the facilities given under the Vienna Convention. “Those facilities have been provided before. However, we have not yet taken a final decision.”

MP Nanayakkara went on to claim that a new agreement had been signed in 2018 and as per it the US was exempted from emigration and immigration, defence or custom laws within the country when bringing in various goods to Katunayake Airport. “Who authorised this?” he asked.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe: “From where did you learn that? What document are you referring to?”

MP Nanayakkara: “I got it from the Foreign Ministry.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe: “It was during your government’s time that the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement was signed. All this started as a result of that. Do you know what that agreement is?”

MP Nanayakkara: “I asked about 2018 agreement. I found it and it is with me now. It is on the Foreign Ministry’s letterhead. I will pass it to you. The agreement further allows the US military officers to roam freely in the county without being subject to local laws.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe: “Tell us what the agreement you were referring to. Expose it.” The PM got the document from MP Nanayakkara and pointed out that the date mentioned in that document was May 16, 1995. The PM read aloud the content in the document.