The US Assistant Secretary of State covering South Asia, Robert Blake, visited the Maldives yesterday during a tour of the region, and urged the government and the opposition to cooperate in finding a solution to the country’s economic challenges.
“As in many young democracies, the transition to a functioning system of checks and balances between different branches of government is very challenging,” Blake said.
Blake said that he had discussed with President Mohamed Nasheed the steps the Maldives was taking to try and stabilise the economy and reduce the budget deficit, and urged the opposition to involve itself in finding a solution.
“It is very important for them to come together and for [the opposition] to come up with an alternative – if they have an alternative – and negotiate an agreed plan. It is most important to continue momentum, reduce the deficit and put the economy on a firmer financial footing, while at the same time continuing the process of strengthening democracy.
“I encourage the government and opposition to work to together to try and tackle the prblems the Maldives is facing. Even in an older and more established democracy such as our own, politicians can find it difficult to work together across party lines in a spirit of fairness and bipartisanship, for the sake of governing well. But when they do, everybody benefits.”
Blake said he was encouraged during his meeting with the President that Nasheed had “reaffirmed his commitment to freedom of assembly”, and noted that despite the country’s political “growing pains”, “the Maldives’ international influence far exceeds its size, particularly in multilateral organisations such as the UN and its human rights council.”
He thanked Nasheed for the Maldives’ votes concerning Syria, Libya and Iran, and noted that he had “become one of he world’s leading climate change advocates, with a flair for drawing attention to the critical impact climate change is having on island nations.”
US-Maldives cooperation extended to visits by figures from the US legislature, student exchange programs, visiting American Muslim speakers, and military collaboration on security and training, he noted. Blake suggested further cooperation with the new Maldives National University, with faculty visiting from US universities.
Blake also spoke briefly on the successful US assassination of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, explaining the State Department’s decision to issue a worldwide caution for American citizens.
“I think difficult to predict [the reaction],” he said. “It is reasonable to assume that Al-Qaeda will try to retaliate for the loss of its leader, and we wanted to make sure people were aware of this development, especially in areas where there is already anti-American sentiment.”
Blake left for Sri Lanka last night, visiting USAID-supported programs and meeting with local leaders in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.