January 10, 2023
DHAKA – Dhaka and Washington yesterday discussed boosting defence cooperation, maritime security and strengthening the capacities of law enforcement agencies.
The issues came up during a meeting between a US delegation, led by US National Security Council’s Senior Director for South Asia Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher, and Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen at the state guesthouse Padma yesterday.
The US has been eager to sign two defence agreements with Bangladesh as Bangladesh wants to modernise the military by 2030.
The agreements are General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and the Acquisition Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which the officials termed foundational agreements meant to strengthen the defence relationship between two countries.
As part of a security plan in the Indo-Pacific region, the US wants to boost maritime security cooperation with the regional countries.
A meeting source said the issue of sanctions imposed by the US on Rab and seven of its former and current officials in December 2021 was not discussed.
“Both sides, however, spoke of exchange of training and capacity building of Rab and other law enforces,” he told this correspondent.
Laubacher, who visited Rohingya camps on Sunday, lauded Bangladesh for sheltering the Rohingyas and stressed on expanding education and livelihood options for them.
Foreign Secretary Masud told her that security situation in the Rohingya camps is deteriorating and it could turn out to be a security issue and so an urgent solution to this crisis is needed.
He appreciated the US for supporting the resolutions in the UN related to the Rohingyas and for recognising the Rohingya genocide.
The other members of the visiting US delegation include Colonel Brian Luti, director for South Asia Regional Affairs at the National Security Council; Scott Urbom, office director for Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in the South-Central Asia Bureau; Helen LaFave, deputy chief of mission; and Arturo Hines, chief of political section of the US embassy in Dhaka.
They also attended a discussion with officials of the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said Dhaka welcomes constructive engagement of the US.
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Donald Lu, will visit Dhaka this month. Two other officials, including a top official from USAID, are also likely to visit Dhaka.
“This is very positive. We have multifaceted relationship with the US. We want to advance our relations and these visits are part of it,” he told journalists at the foreign ministry.
“If there is any weakness, they will tell us officially. We will resolve it,” he said when journalists asked about US concerns about the human rights, calls for fair elections and freedom of the press.
Momen said Bangladesh and the US believe and pursue the same values and principles like democracy and respect for human rights.
He said there were US concerns over the Digital Security Act and measures were taken to rectify it.
He said there has been no excesses by the Rab for many years. Actions were taken duly in any case of excesses as the force matured over the years and they have an inbuilt accountability system. “We don’t want to see any injustice anywhere.”
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh wants the US and their allies to disown the political parties that support militancy and terrorism.
He said Bangladesh has paid heavy price of the Holey Artisan terrorist attack and the response and reaction from the law enforcers were applauded by the US and its allies. They and their allies also disowned the political parties that shelter and promote militancy.
“We hope that the countries will continue that policy and would not shelter any killers,” Shahriar told reporters at the foreign ministry.
He brushed away any possibility of sanctions when asked about the foreign secretary’s December 31 letter to the Bangladesh missions abroad.
The letter asked the Bangladeshi diplomats to be highly alert to block any sanctions.
Earlier, Shahriar said there were some misunderstandings with the US. The government is working on withdrawing the US sanctions. Therefore, some people are overenthusiastic about the relationship with the US.
“Therefore, the BNP-Jamaat is trying to fish in the troubled waters,” he said.
The BNP expected another sanction on December 9-10 last year and called a public meeting on that day, he said, adding that this is a proof how dependent they are on lobbyists and propaganda machine.
“One has to come to power with public support, not with foreign support. For the time being, some may benefit but it is not permanent,” Shahriar said.