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Maldives crisis: Opposition leaders meet US officials, ask them to act ‘urgently’

The State Department confirmed its officials met former Maldivian foreign minister Ahmed Naseem, who is leading the delegation.

world Updated: Mar 16, 2018 11:00 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Maldives crisis,Maldives,Maldives opposition
A file photo shows Maldivian police responding to a protest urging the release of opposition leaders held in jail in the Maldives capital Male. (AFP)

Opposition leaders from Maldives met US government officials in Washington on Thursday and urged them to act “urgently” to prevent the crisis in the island-nation from turning it into a threat to security in the Indian Ocean and from “reversing” the geopolitical reality in the region.

They also discussed the growing influence of the Islamic State in the country — and the fear of it becoming a “breeding ground” for recruits — to seek immediate action.

The state department confirmed its officials met former Maldivian foreign minister Ahmed Naseem, who is leading the delegation, on Thursday.

“They exchanged perspectives on the current situation in Maldives,” a state department spokesperson said, refusing to comment on the specifics of the discussions and calls from the delegation.

“The United States continues to call on President Yameen to end the state of emergency, uphold the rule of law, permit the full and proper functioning of the Parliament, and restore the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people of Maldives,” the spokesperson said in a statement to Hindustan Times.

The Maldivian delegation has also sought a meeting with White House officials, but they were waiting for confirmation, or denial, till late Thursday evening.

Experts and diplomats focussed on the region said they believed the US had sent a strong message to the Maldivian government by receiving the delegation of opposition leaders.

One of them said, speaking on background, it was a strong counter to President Yameen sending officials to China and Saudi Arabia to buttress his case, but not to India, which had cited prior engagements to not receive official emissaries.

US president Donald Trump had discussed the Maldivian crisis with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over phone on February 8 and the two leaders had expressed concern over the situation.

The US, which does not have a direct diplomatic presence in Maldives — its embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka has additional charge — is generally understood to have let India assume lead position on Maldives as also other countries in the region, such as Nepal and Bhutan.

Former foreign minister Naseem got more specific in an interview and said the United States can help more easily than is perceived. The Americans, he added, have “tremendous leverage” over Maldives, and can easily bring the country back on track as it has in the past.

Key to that was the dependence of Maldives’ tourism-driven economy on US dollars. “We trade in US dollars. We do everything in US dollar. We have our money in the United States,” he had said earlier at a roundtable at Atlantic Council, a leading US think-tank.

The United States, he said, could use that leverage. “Just a threat would do,” he said, and insisted he was not seeking some kind of sanctions against the tiny Indian Ocean country.

Asked if he would like the US to talk to China, which has a growing influence over President Yameen, Naseem said, “The US knows what it needs to do.”

Yameen triggered the present crisis early February by imprisoning the Supreme Court chief justice instead of implementing the court’s order to release political prisoners. He went on to declare a state of emergency in the country, for 15 days, and then for another 30 days.

Yameen is seen as someone trying to play India — which has had a long-standing relationship with Maldives that includes military help to prevent a coup — against China — which has major economic investments there — to ensure his survival.

First Published: Mar 16, 2018 10:48 IST