The United States sees the upcoming "Partnership Dialogue" with Bangladesh on March 20, the first in the post-Covid, and at least as far as the Bangladesh side certainly is concerned, the 'post-Sanctions' era, as an opportunity to expand the "robust relationship" between the two countries.
Both sides emphasise the multi-faceted nature of the relationship cannot be undermined by any single issue, no matter how novel. The entire gamut of relations between the two countries, including security cooperation, trade, labour rights, investment opportunities, human rights, governance, global threats including climate change, and regional issues including a free and open Indo-Pacific region, are all expected to feature.
US Department of State's Under Secretary of Political Affairs Victoria Nuland will lead the US delegation for the 8th bilateral "Partnership Dialogue" between the two countries. The Bangladesh side will be led by Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen.
"In the dialogue we will discuss opportunities to expand a robust relationship, ways we can further enhance close ties on a range of areas of cooperation," a US Embassy official in Dhaka told our sister newsagency UNB earlier this week, speaking on condition of anonymity. While briefing a small group of journalists, he said Bangladesh-US ties go beyond the government-to-government sphere, with the people to-people contacts and commercial relationships remaining active and growing.
In this fiftieth year of diplomatic relations, Washington seeks to "deepen a strong and multi-faceted relationship" built on mutual respect and shared interests with Bangladesh, said the diplomat. During this visit, Under Secretary Nuland, the third-ranked official at the State Department, will have the opportunity to make people-to-people and business connections.
"We have a long history of cooperation between our two countries," said the diplomat at the US Embassy. The United States has been a consistent partner in the success stories of Bangladesh, and this dialogue, and others that follow this year, will demonstrate their willingness to remain so in the future.
On the other hand, Dhaka insists it cares deeply about its ties to Washington, but finds itself frequently befuddled while trying to figure out the US position on something, or how it would react. Earlier, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said the relations between Bangladesh and the United States have many factors and determinants and the relations will be enhanced and deepened through a number of dialogues, visits back-and-forth, and track-2 engagements in the coming months.
"To this end, we are aiming at fostering a closer understanding with the US," he said recently, adding that Bangladesh fully intends to "enhance and deepen" its ties with the US.
Meanwhile, a rung or two above the dialogue, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen is scheduled to have a bilateral meeting (in-person) with his US counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Washington on April 4. On 6 April, a security dialogue between the two countries will be held in Washington DC. On 11 May, a meeting of the business leaders of the two countries will hold a meeting in Dhaka while another security dialogue will be held in Hawaii, USA on 14 May. Bangladesh is determined to use these engagements to recast the relationship in a brighter light.
For example, Dhaka notes there has been no summit visit between the two countries for a long time. Bangladesh will raise the matter strongly in the partnership dialogue on 20 March. Dhaka will specifically stress improving the lines of political communication between the two countries' leaders.
No joint statement
Before Nuland even arrives in Bangladesh, one aspect of the dialogue on Sunday comes across as immediately a bit off. It follows the revelation that although the two countries issue joint statements after every partnership dialogue, this time, they have decided to issue statements separately.
Officials said both Bangladesh and the US can be expected raise their priorities, proposals and observations in the dialogue. There is no scope to think that both countries will be on the same page on every issue, or the degree to which an issue is emphasised. That's why separate statements can even help each side to be more transparent on where exactly they stand on each issue.
View from the Swamp
According the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global business strategy firm in Washington, DC that is chaired by Madeleine K. Albright, President Bill Clinton's second secretary of state, the imposition of sanctions on Bangladeshis for the first time ever offered three key takeaways
• The U.S. imposition of sanctions on Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) paramilitary unit over serious human rights violations on December 10 injected significant political tensions into the U.S.-Bangladesh relationship.
• Immediately, the sanctions garnered a strong response from Dhaka. In the mid-to-long term, however, we predict tensions will likely be ameliorated by Bangladesh's strategic value, its important role in counterterrorism, and the growing significance of bilateral commercial relations. This assessment could change if there is further deterioration in the local human rights climate.
• Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland's March trip to Dhaka will be closely watched for its potential to mend the row between the two governments, while a letter in the European Parliament urging the body to impose similar sanctions has sparked fresh anxiety for Dhaka.
According to ASG's last update on the situation from February, the sanctions have caused 'significant', but only temporary, disruption to U.S.-Bangladesh relations. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government continues to view RAB as critical to national security and has tried to rally to its support since the sanctions. Dhaka summoned former U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl Miller to condemn the sanctions as an effort by the U.S. to undermine the country's domestic security forces. In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen urged the United States to waive the sanctions.
Part of Bangladesh's frustration stems from a believed inconsistency in the U.S. approach. Bangladeshi officials have pointed to police brutality cases in the United States as an example of an analogous set of actions to shore up public support for the RAB and the government's stand - even though the comparison doesn't quite work. The Awami League has also accused the BNP-led opposition and non-governmental organizations of distributing information designed to deceive foreign governments and undermine Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government.
The sanctions' timing was also awkward for Dhaka, in ASG's assessment. Bangladesh is in the middle of trade discussions with the European Union due to its expected graduation from "least-developed country" to developing country status as soon as 2026, which would render it ineligible for access to the EU's Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP-Plus) program.
To demonstrate the government's sincerity in response to the sanctions, Bangladesh's Foreign Ministry announced the creation of a human rights cell within its UN office. The law minbister started carryib While the move suggests a new seriousness about the situation, it remains to be seen whether it signals a departure from prior denials over the RAB's rights record and what it describes as the 'Hasina government's autocratic tilt'. Ouch. The preferential access afforded to Bangladesh's textile sector under GSP-Plus has been vital to the country's sustained high growth trajectory in recent years. Despite calls by some in the European Parliament to follow the US example, the EU has clarified there will be no impact on business ties.
An old Russia hand, and their man in Dhaka
Although highly regarded in Democrat circles for her experience and foreign policy acumen, Nuland would be arriving in Dhaka under a bit of a cloud. At the State Department, she was one of its highly regarded 'Russia hands', with specialist knowledge of how the country works, how it could be nudged, or even how it could be 'made to behave.' Except for a brief junior-level posting at Guangzhou early on in her career, she would seem to have spent her entire diplomatic career in various roles on mainland Europe, including Russia and its satellite states. The furthest she would seem to have ventured east, at least with her diplomat hat on, would be when she went to Ulaan Bataar to set up the new US Embassy there.
Newly appointed US ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas on Tuesday (Mar. 15) said that Bangladesh is an important US partner and the bilateral relationship is 'broad and dynamic'.
'Our cooperation on economic issues, development, security, and climate change demonstrates the range of our strong partnership and future potential,' he said after presenting his credentials to president Abdul Hamid. Beyond the work of government, the United States and Bangladesh are closely linked through our people-to-people ties, he said.
'Together, we have delivered greater prosperity to both our peoples while working to make the Indo-Pacific region more open, more secure, and more prosperous,' said the US envoy. Ambassador Haas said this year marks 50 years of friendship between our two countries. He looks forward to using his tenure to work with Bangladesh and solidify ties for the next 50 years and beyond.
'I am excited to begin my assignment as the US ambassador to Bangladesh. It was an honour for me to present my credentials to president Hamid,' said the ambassador. He thanked the people of Bangladesh for their extremely hospitable welcome.
Ambassador Haas, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of minister-counsellor, previously served as acting assistant secretary and concurrently as principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.
He also previously served as deputy assistant secretary for Trade Policy and Negotiations. Haas has also served as Chargé d'Affaires and Deputy Permanent Representative at the US Mission to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, US Consul General in Mumbai, India, and economic counsellor at the US Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Other diplomatic postings include London, Rabat, Washington, Port-au-Prince, and Berlin. He is the recipient of the State Department's James Clement Dunn Award for Excellence and the Cordell Hull Award for Economic Achievement by Senior Officers.
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