189. Despatch From the Embassy in Ceylon to the Department of State1

No. 1079


  • Embdes 793, 875, Deptel 6202


  • U.S. Policy in Current Ceylonese Political Situation

The Country Team has reviewed again the current political situation in Ceylon, in the light of the cautionary advice contained in Deptel 620, to determine desirable courses of U.S. action.

[Page 398]

As background, the Country Team would emphasize that the U.S. representatives in Ceylon have in the recent past emphasized 1) that the U.S. will support and maintain cordial relations with any non-Communist Government, and 2) that U.S. economic assistance is directed toward improving the well-being of the people of Ceylon and not the fortunes of any politician or party.

In more personal [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] conversations, the Country Team has maintained a carefully balanced attitude [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] by [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] indicating to moderate MEP leaders our sympathetic and moral support [1½ lines of source text not declassified]. It has also sought to improve contact with the left-wing leader Philip Gunawardena through USOM contacts with the result that he is now seriously interested in visiting the U.S.

From all evidence available, the Country Team believes that effective relations with the U.S. and a continuation of U.S. aid are at present considered useful and desirable by political parties ranging from the UNP to Philip Gunawardena’s LSSP (MEP). At the same time, the nature of U.S. global policy is such as to create unavoidably the impression that the U.S. would prefer, and presumably give greater support and assistance to, a government of more conservative complexion than that now in power. This viewpoint has been frequently expressed by UNP and moderate MEP leaders, entirely without stimulation or encouragement by U.S. spokesmen. It is also rumored and sometimes asserted in the Marxist press that the U.S. gives covert support to conservative leaders.

Under these circumstances, the Country Team believes that, [1 line of source text not declassified] relations between the U.S. and a succeeding Ceylonese Government (barring a Communist Party Government) will be determined by the usefulness of cordial relations and U.S. economic assistance to that government, and not by rumored U.S. support for the right wing. It should be noted that the election of the current “socialistic” government has not prevented increased U.S. economic assistance to the people of Ceylon or close operating relations with the Ministries involved.

[Page 399]

In the opinion of the Country Team, a critical period in the political orientation of Ceylon may be at hand. The schism between the more moderate MEP majority and the Marxist-left led by Philip Gunawardena is increasingly deep, with both groups tending to adopt intransigent positions. Either over the current Cooperative Bank Bill or some other issue, it is quite probable that such a dispute may occur as to force sufficient resignations as to cause a reconstruction of the government through a reorganization of the MEP coalition or a general election.

[3 paragraphs (13½ lines of source text) not declassified]

Probably the greatest single problem of the moderate MEP leaders is the lack of funds with which to mount an effective political campaign. The same problem, although to varying degrees, faces all political parties [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. The Team believes it probable that prior to determining to risk an election, an approach may be made by moderate MEP leaders for [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] financial support for campaigning. [1 line of source text not declassified]

Under the circumstances the Country Team recommends that:

1) Continued moral support for moderate MEP leaders be expressed by U.S. representatives [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] without any implied commitment of future expanded U.S. assistance [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].

[2 paragraphs (6 lines of source text) not declassified]

For the Ambassador:
Rufus Burr Smith
Deputy Chief of Mission
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 120.1446E/4–2259. Secret.
  2. In despatch 793 from Colombo, February 3, the Country Team reported its assessment of the political situation. It concluded that no probable governing party or leader could form a strong, stable government in Ceylon in the immediate future. Thus the Country Team agreed that U.S. policy should be directed at general support of non-Communist actions and leaders in Ceylon, “while carefully avoiding U.S. identification with any particular party or leader.” (Ibid., 120.1446E/2–359) In despatch 875 from Colombo, February 26, the Country Team sent additional discussion of the recommendations contained in despatch 793. (Ibid., 120.1446E/2–2659)

    Telegram 620 to Colombo, April 6, noted the Department’s agreement with the objectives of the Country Team approach as outlined in despatches 793 and 875. However, it added that [1 line of text not declassified] it was essential that it make a careful study of the implications for future U.S. relations with any successor government in Ceylon. The Department suggested that the Country Team be “extremely cautious” in any expressions of sympathy to Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) moderates, in order to avoid the impression that “expanded U.S. assistance would be forthcoming if they gain control.” (Ibid., 746E.5–MSP/4–659)