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SPEECH DELIVERED BY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AMBASSADOR ESALA WEERAKOON AT THE INAUGURATION OF THE XVI COURSE OF THE DIPLOMA IN DIPLOMACY AND WORLD AFFAIRS ON 2TH FEBRUARY 2017

I consider it an honour to be invited to speak at the inauguration of the 16th Diploma Course in Diplomacy and World Affairs of the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute. At the outset, I would like to congratulate Mrs. Pamela Deen, the Director General of the BIDTI for having widened the scope of the curriculum to include new topics on practical professional skills and encourage discussion on current global issues.For many years the BIDTI has provided academic programmes that enable those public spirited citizens who are interested in expanding their knowledge of national and world affairs to learn about diplomacy, international relations, law and negotiations, to mention just a few topics, while engaging full time with their occupations elsewhere.

Acquiring Diplomatic skills are required today not only by professional diplomats but also by all those who interact with the international community. Courses conducted by the BIDTI for the public have been in high demand and this growing interest is a clear indication that people in the public and private sectors were aware of the need to acquire such skills.

Diplomacy involves human behavior and conduct. Diplomats discuss matters of State and these are on variable and varied subjectsthat can range from climate change, to sustainable development, economic and trade relations, women and child rights, human rights, terrorism, transnational crime, refugees and peace-building.

In addressing such challenges, Governments and political leaders take decisions not based on the laws of Physics and Mathematics. They do so based on national interest. As it is said; states or countries do not have permanent friends or permanent enemies; they have permanent interests. If politics is the art of the possible, diplomacy is the path of wisdom.

Sri Lanka is not an exception to the challenges, I just outlined, the country faces internal and external post conflict challengesincludingthe demand to address the immediate need of socio, humanitarian and economic issues. Non action on resolving these challengeswould make the country incur political and economic costs.

By engaging and having a constructive, meaningful and sincere dialogue on these challenges, withoutbeingcombative and aggressive/ in our approach/has brought many benefits to the people of this country. Diplomacy is defined as the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations. It is also the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way.

Sri Lanka today is well placed to deal with its challenges due to the formation of the Government of National Unity in which there is a greater bipartisanship than we have had before in our country’s history. There is a need for bipartisanship/ because it is easy to sow doubts in the minds of people/ who are not knowledgeable about the true state of matters. When there is ignorance, those who speak words of hate and fear have the advantage over those who speak of unity and trust.

Institutions of learning such as the BIDTI, therefore, have a critically important role to play in improving the level of knowledge of opinion forming sections within the general population. In this regard, it is pertinent to note the words of the HonourablePrime Minister RanilWickremesinghe at the Convocation Awards Ceremony in November last year. He said that more institutions of this nature were needed and that furthering higher education/was key / not only for the advancement of individuals, /but also of the entire society.

Those who spend their time and effort to imbibe knowledge are truly constructive opinion formers who can influence national decision making by valid analysis rather than by coming to conclusions based on incomplete facts and theories. You are opinion formers who will take the lessons you learn in the courses you take and bring them to the attention of the wider public. At BIDTI you have the best lecturers and practitioners in the country who come and engage in dialogue and teaching with you. The Faculty comprises of career Ambassadors, visiting overseas Scholars and Professionals from the Public and Private Sector. This is an opportunity you need to optimize/by asking the questions that concern you and putting your own view across, so that there is a cross fertilization of ideas. You are influential and your thoughts, words and actions, if constructively directed, can induce policy makers to decide in the national interest rather than for parochial and narrow motives.

Before I conclude, I like to offer you the words of advice of the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs,MangalaSamaraweera at the Convocation Awards Ceremony last November when he spoke to graduates of previous courses. The Minister said, “You must be driven by the same sense of ambition,/ the same sense of optimism,/ and the same sense of confidence and inspiration to play your part in building our nation – a strong, progressive and peaceful democratic society with a strong and industrious people. A nation that we can all be proud of for which the foundation has already been set by His Excellency President MaithripalaSirisena and Honorable Prime Minister RanilWickremesinghe. The difficult times of conflict, suspicion, and division are now over, hopefully, for once and for all. We must not be stuck in that past.”

The Minister added a note of realism when he also said, “Of course it will not be a smooth journey. There will be difficulties to overcome as we progress. But we must not lose hope. We must persevere. After all, this is our common future/ that we are designing and crafting/ and we must not lose hope because that would mean yet another lost opportunity. Our nation has lost far too many opportunities and we must not let this window of opportunity /we have today/ pass us by. Our world is far too interconnected for any country to succeed on its own. Sri Lanka certainly cannot succeed in isolation, and we will and we must, continue to work in cooperation with countries in our region as well as beyond, and also work for a strong rules-based international order.”

Next week the Sri Lanka delegation will be travelling to Geneva to meet the challenge that the country took when it co-sponsored the Resolution of the UN Human Rights Council on achieving reconciliation and justice in Sri Lanka. The Government took this decision in sincerity. The course of action/ is to be genuine /in striving to resolve/ the outstanding challenges. Diplomacy is about making friends and keeping them. Sri Lanka has won many friends and we intend to keep it that way.

I extend my warm good wishes to all the participants in the 16th Course of the Diploma in Diplomacy on World Affairs conducted by the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute and wish you every success as you embark on this stimulating and challenging yet rewarding journey of learning.

I thank you.