Minivan News spends 15 Minutes with Philip Frayne, Public Affairs Officer for the US Embassy in Colombo. Here are some extracts from the interview, which you can also listen to in full by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.
Philip Frayne stated that the United States is interested in what goes on in a small country such as the Maldives: â€œwe are interested in what happens in the Maldives because we think it is a country with great potentialâ€ he said.
Touching on the recent political events, Frayne stated that the United States is â€œencouraged by the recent political opening that we have seen, the registration of the MDP for example, was an encouraging sign. We are encouraged by recent statements made by President Gayoom.â€
Frayne also outlined some of the work the US government has been doing to improve relations and increase understanding between the people of the United States and the Maldives.
A number of exchange programmes have been established he said, and a recently established Fullbright scholarship programme â€“ where scholars in the US come to study the Maldives and Maldivians go to America – was â€œto continueâ€.
Also, an international visitor study programme is to start between Maldives and United States, where 6-8 Maldivians will go to the United States to study different aspects of American society and politics â€“ including grass-roots activism, literature, volunteerism, and the media.
America is also working on the cultural front. â€œIn April, we had an American Blues Quartet [play in Maleâ€™] and we were very pleased about how that turned outâ€¦ I think it was the first time a live professional Blues group has performed in the Maldivesâ€ he said.
We also recently had a photography exhibit of roadside architecture in the National Library which gave Maldivians a slice of American culture that you donâ€™t normally get.â€
â€œIn September, we are planning for the Maldivian-American Friendship Week and in that week we hope to have some more live music but we will also have a trade show with emphasis on bilateral trade and we may have educational seminarsâ€¦ about study opportunities in the US and possibly a cooking demonstration of American cuisine and a military visit by an American ship. The week will emphasis the friendship and deepening ties we are developing between the United States and the Maldives.â€
â€œWe also recently got funding for a cultural preservation project in Maleâ€™. The oldest mosque in Maleâ€™ â€“ the Eid Mosque â€“ is in need of restoration and preservation and we got a grant from the State Department [Foreign Ministry of the US government] to help in that preservationâ€¦ and that work should get started sometime this year.â€
When asked how America pursues the democratizing policies of its President in the Maldives, Frayne said:
â€œWe had made a statement from the State Department last year after the August disturbances in Maleâ€™ after which a lot of people were arrested and we came out with a statement saying that we have serious concerns over the people arrested. In our visits to the Maldives we did visit some of those prisoners while they were imprisoned or under house arrest. We kept very close track of that and we made our concerns known to the government in the Maldives. So we try and do it through public statements but also through private diplomacy urging the government to open up.â€
â€œAmerica promotes democracy, freedom of expression and a pluralistic media everywhere [in the world]â€ he further said, also pointing out a speech delivered by Condelezza Rice in Cairo last week:
â€œShe was fairly critical of the Egyptian government â€“ a long time very close ally of the United States. And yet here she was in the middle of Cairo giving a speech saying that the Egyptian government needs to lead the way in democratization in the Middle East with their upcoming Presidential Elections. So I wouldnâ€™t say this is an exclusive concern in the Maldives or anywhere else but one of the priorities of the Bush administration, if not the leading priority, is to promote democracy throughout the world.â€
He further outlined that achieving peace and stability under democratic governments was the objective of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and said the â€œpreservation of human rights has been a long-term plank of US foreign policy.â€
â€œIâ€™d like your listeners in the Maldives to understand that we are not taking action against Muslims anywhere. Our actions are not directed against Muslimsâ€¦One of the things we try to protect are Muslim human rightsâ€ he said noting that Saddam killed an estimated 300,000 Muslims in Iraq and the US interventions in the Balkans, Somalia and Afghanistan were for the protection of the rights of Muslims. â€œOur foreign policy is to protect human rightsâ€¦ we are not anti-Muslim.â€
Speaking on the perception of the United States in the Maldives and amongst the â€˜democratic forcesâ€™ he said: â€œI think the perception of the United States in the Maldives is pretty goodâ€¦I canâ€™t speak for opposition or democratic forces in the Maldivesâ€¦but I think [the perception] is generally pretty good.â€
â€œWe like to push for pluralisation and democratization in a friendly conversation with the government of the Maldives. We are not anti-government by any stretch of the imagination but we will when we have concerns â€“ as we did last year â€“bring it up with the government and let them know clearly that thatâ€™s how we feel.â€