Bangladesh to emphasise withdrawal of US sanctions

Masud Bin Momen (L) and Victoria Nuland

The 8th Partnership Dialogue of Bangladesh and The US is going to be held in Dhaka at the backdrop of US sanctions on Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) on allegation of violation of human rights and the Russia-Ukraine war.

Bangladesh will put emphasis on strengthening political relations and withdrawal of sanctions on the RAB and several of its former and current officials. On the other hand, the US will put emphasis on signing a defence security agreement and on understanding the Indo-Pacific Strategy, said the diplomatic sources in Dhaka.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland will lead their respective sides in the dialogue, to be held on 20 March after two years’ hiatus due to Covid-19 pandemic.

In a press briefing the US Embassy in Bangladesh said about the partnership dialogue that the two countries are set to observe 50 years of diplomatic relations. The US wants to make the relation deeper that has grown based on mutual respect and common interests.

The dialogue will discuss political relations, economic cooperation, human rights, labour rights and defence cooperation, investment and different strategic issues, said diplomatic sources of both Bangladesh and the US.

Emphasis on political relations

Following the partnership dialogue on 20 March, four more discussion at different levels between the two countries will be held. Those discussions could also not be organised in the last two years due to the Covid-19 situation. Officials from both countries hope, through this dialogue the ways of strengthening the relations between the two countries will be wider.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said, “This is the 50th year of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Keeping this in mind we have been putting stress on taking the relations ahead. We have told them about mutual visit at higher echelons of the government and discussion. The US is also interested about this.”

After the partnership dialogue on 20 March, Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen and the United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will hold a bilateral meeting in Washington DC on 4 April. On 6 April, a security dialogue between the two countries will be held in Washington DC. On 11 May, a meeting of the business leaders of the two countries will hold a meeting in Dhaka while another security dialogue will be held in Hawai, USA on 14 May.

An official familiar with the matter said there has been no summit visit between the two countries for a long time. Bangladesh will raise the matter strongly in the partnership dialogue on 20 March. Dhaka also will put stress on increasing communication at the political level between the two countries, the official added.

Speaking to Prothom Alo about the Russia-Ukraine war, another official said the US is likely to raise the issue. In such situations, Bangladesh always believes about resolving the matter peacefully following the UN charter. Bangladesh will also try to understand what the US has been thinking as a resolution to this situation.

Economic cooperation

Dhaka has been putting emphasis on trade and investment for increasing economic cooperation with the US. As of now, most of the US investment in Bangladesh is in the energy sector. Bangladesh is especially interested to get investment in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector as part of diversify the US investment in the country. The US has been showing interest to export cotton in Bangladesh. These issues could get importance in the partnership dialogue.

The business leaders of the two countries held a virtual meeting in 2020. There could be advancement about investment in the meeting between them in May, said officials in Dhaka.

Rights situation

Diplomatic sources of both Bangladesh and the US said the human rights issue will get prominence in the partnership dialogue as the two departments of the US imposed sanctions on RAB and its six current and former officials.

Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said, “We have been taking preparations to employ a legal advising organisation in the US for withdrawal of the sanctions.”

The issues of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, Digital Security Act, labour rights situation and other issues will be discussed. Bangladesh has already explained its position in the United Nations and different other countries. Bangladesh will explain its position to the US if the matter is raised.

Security cooperation

Bangladesh has been discussing about signing two defence agreements with the US for buying developed arms for the armed forces. One of the agreements are – General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and the other is Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).

A senior official at the foreign ministry said aside from the two defence agreements, fighting terrorism and Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) will also be discussed in the partnership dialogue.

Pressed on about discussion on signing the defence agreements, an official of the US Embassy told newspersons, “There will be a discussion in detail about various facets of defence agreement. But I don’t want remark about any certain thing before the dialogue. And, the US’ position about the IPS will be explained in the dialogue in the context of free Indo-Pacific region. At the same time, the US will want to know what Bangladesh thinks about the IPS.”

No joint statements

Though the two countries issue joint statements after every partnership dialogue, this time, both the countries have decided to issue statements separately.

Wishing not to be named, officials of the two countries said both Bangladesh and the US will raise a few priorities, proposals and observations in the dialogue. There is no scope to think that both the countries will be unanimous on every issue. That’s why both the countries want to let people know the issues they could not agree upon.

Wider relation despite strains

If we take a look at the bilateral relation of the last decade, there was a strain between the two countries over Grameen Bank and its founder Dr Yunus. At one stage the relation turned into sour. At that time, it seemed the representatives of the government were in competition for indecent and harsh statements about the US. Despite that, business, investment, initiatives regarding antiterrorism and militancy and other cooperation were more than any other time in the past.

At the same time, US’ support and assistance to Bangladesh over Rohingya issue remains unwavered from the very beginning. The US help in fighting coronavirus is also significant. As of now, the US has given Bangladesh over 60 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine.

Former foreign secretary and North South University’s South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance fellow professor Md Shahidul Huq told Prothom Alo, “Bangladesh’s relation with the US is multilateral. The discussion has to be open and frank considering the partnership and to take that relation forward. Biden administration is putting importance to democracy and rights issues, we must realise its significance.”

* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza