The Maldives was offered US$85,000 to assist with the “resettlement expenses” of a Guantanamo Bay inmate, sought increased access to “liberal western education” in a bid to tackle growing fundamentalism and vowed that it would “not let relations with India impact relations with the United States.”
These and other diplomatic revelations emerged yesterday with the publication of a leaked diplomatic cable detailing consultations between Washington and the Maldives’ Ambassador to the US, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed.
Dated February 26 and stamped by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the cable document reports on Ghafoor’s first consultation with US officials on February 23, 2010 ahead of presenting his credentials to US President Barack Obama the following day.
Assistance with UN Human Rights Council seat
According to the cable, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake asked Ghafoor about the country’s progress towards gaining a seat on the UN Human Rights Council (which it later obtained).
In response, Ghafoor said he was confident that the Maldives could obtain one of the four Asia Group seats, as he did not believe Iran had enough Arab support. But he expressed concern that a vote split between Thailand and Maldives left the possibility open for Iran to win by “working African capitals.”
“As such, Maldives is not only lobbying Asian missions, but also African missions,” the cable stated.
Blake offered “quiet” US assistance “if it would be helpful”, however Ghafoor said that while he appreciated the offer “the Maldives needed to be seen as earning the seat in its own right.”
“As a small country, [Ghafoor] said, Maldives can’t play other countries against each other; it needs to take principled positions.”
The cable discusses arrangements for the transfer of a Guantanamo detainee to the Maldives and refers to an individual named ‘Fried’, presumably the Special Envoy to facilitate the closing of Guanatanamo Bay, Daniel Fried.
Information on the matter would be “kept close until we transfer the detainee”, Fried said in the cable, and referred to an offer “of US$85,000 to assist with [the detainee’s] resettlement expenses.”
“Fried stressed the importance of working out more detailed security arrangements for the detainee, along the lines of those applied in other countries that have accepted Guantanamo detainees for resettlement; Embassy Colombo could work directly with the Maldivian government on those arrangements,” the cable stated.
Vulnerability to extremism
Seeking additional US support from the US towards tackling fundamentalism, Ghafoor pressed for increased access to “liberal western education”, which he suggested would also help to combat growing fundamentalist trends.
In the leaked cable, Ghafoor explained that rising fundamentalism stemmed partly from students travelling to places such as Pakistan and Egypt for a free education in Islamic studies, and returning with extremist views. This, he said, had altered the Maldives’ traditionally peaceful and tolerant culture: “‘It used to be simply a question of faith; now you must show that you are more Muslim than others,’ he said.”
The cable also articulated the Maldivian government’s concern about the impact of an attack on an island resort, such as by Somali pirates, which Ghafoor noted “would cripple the country’s economy.”
In response, the US expressed interest in “expanding bilateral defense and security engagement, continuing training, and helping build the Maldives’ maritime security capabilities to counteract the threat from terrorism, piracy, and trafficking.”
Robert Scher, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, asked Ghafoor how US military training compared with that of India “in terms of quantity and quality.”
Ghafoor avoided committing to an answer, instead stating that “both were substantive and substantial.”
“Scher indicated that the US did not want to get in the way of Maldivian relationships with its neighbors,” the cable read.
In addition, “Ghafoor assessed that [India’s] perception of the US has evolved and that Male’ would be able to address any concerns. He stated that [the Maldivian] government would not let relations with India impact relations with the United States, reflecting the Maldives’ attempt to ‘show balance’ in the past. Ghafoor replied that, if necessary, Maldives would explain that neither India nor Pakistan need suspect anything ‘untoward’.”
In a meeting with Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing, Ghafoor said that the Maldives would like to see small countries at the forefront of the climate debate “receive tangible assistance from the larger economies. Other nations would then come to realize that there are advantages to be gained by compliance.”
Ghafoor then identified several projects including harbour deepening and the strengthening of sea walls that he said would cost “approximately US$50 million.”
“Pershing encouraged Ghafoor to provide concrete examples and specific costs in order to increase the likelihood of bilateral assistance and congressional appropriations,” the cables said.
The Maldivian Ambassador also suggested that President Obama use the “dramatic backdrop” of the Maldives “to deliver a speech on climate change when he next visits the region.”