Bangladesh, US want to advance relations

Although there is a difference of opinion between Bangladesh and the US over the 12th national parliament elections, both countries are keen to advance their relations. US president Joe Biden wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressing his will to advance relations between the two countries. As a part of this, a top-level delegation from the US is coming to Dhaka next Sunday.

According to diplomatic sources, the US told Bangladesh last October that exchange of visits at different levels between the two countries will start after the elections. As part of the process, the US delegation will visit Bangladesh after the government took over.

Despite statements from the US Department of State on a regular basis, Bangladesh has taken the letter from the US president seriously. The government feels that the US is not putting forward the issues regarding the general elections in Bangladesh after Awami League came to power for the fourth consecutive term. They think the visit of the top level US delegation is a reflection of the ‘post-election understanding’ between the two countries.

In that case, Bangladesh should agree when the US wants to reach an understanding keeping the election-related issues aside, the diplomats say.

It has been learnt from the US diplomatic sources that Bangladesh is also keen to advance relations between the two countries after the polls. The letter from president Joe Biden and the visit of top level US delegation are results of Bangladesh’s lobbying/contact in different quarters of Washington.

Also Read

The ruling Democrats in the US prioritise on democratic values in terms of foreign policy. It has been discerned from a diplomatic source in Washington that in the case of Bangladesh, the US brought up several issues, including labour rights, human rights, good governance and freedom of speech, especially ahead of the national polls.

However, in the coming days, issues like trade, security, defence, Indo-Pacific Strategy and climate change will come up as well as human rights and good governance.

Prothom Alo has learnt from the diplomatic sources in Dhaka and Washington that the US delegation will be led by senior director of South Asia affairs in the US Defense Council Rear Admiral Eileen Lubacher. The delegation also includes Afreen Akhter, deputy assistant secretary on South and Central Asia affairs and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) assistant administrator Michael Schiffer. They both will reach Dhaka on separate flights Saturday.

The diplomats in Dhaka say the senior director of the US Defense Council is visiting Dhaka at a time when Bangladesh is being affected by the ongoing conflict in Myanmar.

Also Read

US assistant secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu also brought up this issue in a seminar held in Washington last week. As a result, the Myanmar situation may also come up along with other important bilateral issues during the visit of the US delegation.

Asked about the future of Bangladesh-US relations, foreign minister Hasan Mahmud told Prothom Alo on Wednesday, “The US has played a big role in our development journey over the last 52 years. We work together on different issues at international forums. We have our own stance on various issues. It’s not that we will agree on all the issues. It applies to the US as well. But we want to advance our relations with the US.”

Also Read

As per the draft schedule of the US delegation, Eileen Lubacher will hold an official meeting with foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen on Sunday at noon. She will also meet Salman F Rahman, the private industry and investment advisor to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the same day in the afternoon.

Two other members of the delegation Afreen Akhter and Michael Schiffer will exchange views with labour leaders and representatives from civic society tomorrow, Saturday.

Bilateral issues and Myanmar situation in the talks

Apart from the bilateral issues, various regional and international issues may come up in the discussions during the first top-level US delegation visit to Bangladesh after the elections.

According to diplomatic sources, despite the difference of opinion with the US regarding the national polls held on 7 January, the government is keen to advance its relationships between the two countries. It is essential to enhance attachment with the US over several issues, including good governance, human rights and labour rights. Besides, there is the issue of strengthening the strategic ties with the US by signing defence agreements - General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).

Also Read

Asked about the Myanmar situation, a top diplomat in Dhaka said the fighting in Myanmar has further intensified, which is affecting Bangladesh. In this context, the senior director of the US Defense Council is likely to discuss this. In particular, the US delegation may try to understand its impact on Bangladesh and Bangladesh’s stance on this.

Also Read

Speaking to Prothom Alo over the phone last Thursday, former foreign secretary Shahidul Haque said, “It has become tough to separate economic and security related issues. Geopolitics and geo-economy have merged now. It is hard to progress separately on any one of these two issues ignoring the other. Bangladesh is not only important from an economic point of view, but also from geopolitical aspects. Considering this, both countries are now focusing on advancing their relations.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu