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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Be open, inclusive US diplomat Shannon talks to The Daily Star, stresses keeping democratic space open

Rezaul Karim

The United States has said it would continue its call for “inclusiveness and openness” in democratic countries, including Bangladesh, since using every opportunity was important to keep “democratic space open”.
“When we engage and talk about other countries, we are not prescribing actions. We are just underscoring from our own experience,” Ambassador Thomas Shannon, counsellor of the Department of State, told The Daily Star in an interview before wrapping up his brief visit and leaving Dhaka yesterday.
Expressing his views on how Bangladesh's democracy could be further strengthened, the US Under Secretary for Political Affairs-designate said democracy was a “journey”, not an “end point” and it could always be improved.
Sharing his country's experience, Shannon said they have to work very hard to ensure that their democratic process is “inclusive” and people feel they have a reason to participate in the democratic process.
Responding to a question on human rights situation and freedom of speech in Bangladesh, he said Bangladesh is a democracy with a strong tradition of pluralism and tolerance.
“This is very important in a modern world because it creates space through which people can debate openly and debate on political issues in a fashion that allows eventual consensus and common action,” he said.
As the US engages with Bangladesh and other countries, Shannon said they have always been promoting “peaceful dialogue” and participation (of all) in different entities of democracy, including elections.
“We are looking forward to the upcoming local elections and hoping that it will be largely participated,” Shannon said emphasising on the necessity of holding the municipal polls in a free, fair and transparent manner.
On the recent murders, Shannon condemned the killings of bloggers, writers, publishers, and free-thinkers and said, “Those actions are deeply troubling for us and deeply saddening also.”
Referring to similar incidents in other parts of the world, he said, “Freedom of speech needs to be respected.”
Shannon said in their view, means of expression, including social media platforms, should be as open as possible.
In reply to a question on Bangladesh dismissing IS' reported claims of carrying out the recent killings and attacks, he said he had a conversation with the prime minister about fighting terrorism and fighting extremism.
“We agreed that violent extremism has to be combated. Our relationship in the fight against extremism has been very good and has created some positive results as I noted earlier,” he said.
The US diplomat said Bangladesh and the US need to deepen the cooperation and deepen collaboration between security services of the two countries.
“That's what we are committed to do. We feel very comfortable working with the government of Bangladesh on terrorism issue. We feel very comfortable working with the government of Bangladesh in countering violent extremism. We will continue to do so,” Shannon said.
On current security situation in Bangladesh, Shannon said they were trying to look into broader counter-terrorism partnership and would try to understand the phenomena of ISIL outside of ISIL home territory in Syria and Iraq.
“What is important is that this kind of relationship allows for an open and very frank discussion about this threat.” He said the US agreed completely on the importance of countering violent extremism in terms of countering it in two phases.
Firstly, Shannon said, cooperation is needed to counter the violent extremism and terrorism in the immediate phase and secondly, recognising that it is important to address the root causes and trying to ensure that young people across the world do not find terrorism as means of life.
Shannon laid emphasis on convincing young people that they have a better life in a peaceful, stable and democratic society. “In this regard we are very thankful for the cooperation and partnership we have with Bangladesh.”
Asked whether the US administration considers BNP as a terrorist organisation, he said, “No.”
US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, who was present during the interview, supplemented by saying that there was only one Bangladeshsi organisation in the list of the US State Department's terrorist organisations but the BNP is not on the list.
Shannon then added by saying that designating an organisation as a terrorist organisation was a very serious thing and in order to do it, this claim had to fit into a legally defined definition and requirements.
On his first visit to Bangladesh, Shannon said in terms of US diplomacy he would characterise it as “successful”.
Explaining further, he said it was successful as he had the opportunity to meet senior members of the government, including Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and members of opposition political parties.

“In a short period of time we have accomplished a lot.” 

Source:  The Daily Star, 15 December 2015