Monday, 23 May, 2022

US won't take sides in election: Haas

US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas has said the US will not take any side in the upcoming elections in Bangladesh and reiterated US commitment across the world to help countries strengthen democracy, reports UNB.

“Let me be clear: the United States will not pick a side in the upcoming elections. We simply hope for a democratic process that allows the Bangladeshi people to freely decide who will run their country,” he said while addressing a seminar on Sunday.

Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) organised the seminar on “Bangladesh and the United States Relations: Moving towards Enhanced Cooperation and Partnership” at the BIISS auditorium.

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen spoke as the chief guest at the event in which the US envoy highlighted three areas ripe for growth in the bilateral relationship - security, human rights and democracy, and economic ties.

Ambassador Haas said the two countries can work together to promote democracy and protect human rights and acknowledged that the United States is not perfect. “As the relationship grows, the conversation broadens.”

We have embarked on our own democratic renewal. This journey includes tackling our own issues with police accountability and ensuring all Americans can cast their ballots on election day,” he said, adding that they are inviting countries around the world to make similar commitments to strengthen their democracies.

Ambassador Haas said he is pleased Foreign Minister Momen stated that Bangladesh will welcome international observers during the next election.

He also welcomed the Law Minister’s commitment to reform the Digital Security Act to prevent further abuses.

“Holding an election consistent with international standards is not just about the day votes are actually cast,” Ambassador Haas mentioned. In effect, he said, the elections have already started. “Truly democratic elections require the space for civic discourse to take place, an environment where journalists can investigate without fear, and the ability for civil society organizations to advocate broadly.”

The US Ambassador said the relations between the two countries grew with a series of recent engagements while two more important engagements will be held in the coming months and the two countries can increase the security cooperation.

He talked about two proposed agreements - General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) which are "essential" to enabling a closer defence relationship, expanding opportunities for defence trade, information sharing, and military-to-military cooperation between the two countries. The Ambassador said GSOMIA would set ground rules for exchanging sensitive information about military procurements. This framework would enable Bangladesh to modernise its military with US technology, contributing to Bangladesh’s Forces Goal 2030, he said.

Meanwhile ACSA would allow the two militaries to offer each other assistance on the high seas, to lend equipment or spare parts when an aircraft, vehicle, or vessel is in trouble, or to simply exchange fuel and food, the ambassador said.

An ACSA has a real-world impact on safety and interoperability, like when a vessel ends up stranded in the Port of Beirut after the 2020 explosion or during joint humanitarian relief efforts in the Bay of Bengal, said Ambassador Haas.

“There are a lot of misperceptions about the GSOMIA and ACSA. They are technical agreements. They do not reflect an “alliance” or “military pact.” Nor do they constitute a broad and vague defence cooperation agreement, such as the one Bangladesh signed with China in 2002,” he mentioned.

The US envoy said the proposed deals are simple building blocks to a closer relationship and to allow them to help Bangladesh’s armed forces advance its own defence goals. “And they are common. More than 70 countries have signed these agreements with us.” Regarding law enforcement and sanctions, the Ambassador made it clear that there is no scope for repeal of sanctions against the Rapid Action Battalion without concrete action and accountability. “I will be honest.”