Government decides to stay away from SPPConfusion remains though whether Nepal is indeed part of the US scheme and how it can get out of it.
The government has decided not to participate in the US government’s State Partnership Program.
A Cabinet meeting on Monday took a decision to this effect.
“Today’s Cabinet meeting has made three decisions—not to move ahead on the SPP, inform the US government and make all correspondence only through the Foreign Ministry,” said Rajendra Shrestha, minister for Federal Affairs and General Administration. “The point is that direct correspondence by the army has not done good to the country. All correspondence should have been made through the Foreign Ministry.”
Nepal’s “participation” in the SPP has become a hotly debated political issue, with political parties engaged in a blame-game.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is under pressure from his own party not to sign any agreement or give assurance to the US on the State Partnership Program. Also the main opposition, CPN-UML, and other ruling parties have warned him against signing any military pact with the US.
Although the Nepali and the US armies have not signed any agreement or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the SPP, the Deuba government is under pressure to avoid any agreement on the controversial programme after the Parliament and its International Relations Committee held serious deliberations on Nepal’s position regarding the US programme.
Deuba is scheduled to fly to the US in mid-July, but no official announcement has been made yet.
Besides pressure from the House committee, the ruling alliance and the main opposition, Deuba is now being told by members of his own party, the Nepali Congress, to write to the US to inform about Nepal’s decision to stay away from the SPP.
The two general secretaries of the Nepali Congress, Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma, jointly met Deuba on Monday morning and asked him not to move ahead with the SPP and inform the US side accordingly.
While speaking at the meeting of the International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives on Friday, Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka and Chief of the Army Staff General Prabhu Ram Sharma reiterated that Nepal has never been a part of the SPP and no agreement or MoU was signed to that effect although the US has been asking Nepal to join the programme since 2015.
“We urged the prime minister to close the SPP chapter once and for all,” said Sharma, adding, “The government in consultation with the ruling and opposition parties should inform the US that Nepal will not join the programme.”
“For this, the government should write to the US government because the SPP is not in Nepal’s interest. Let’s get the main opposition also on board on this foreign policy issue and close this chapter permanently,” said Sharma.
Officials familiar with Nepal-US relations said there is no official record when the US side forwarded the SPP draft that is circulated to the Nepali media which has created uproar in different sections.
“A SPP draft is circulating in the media, but we do not have an official record of when or if the US pushed for it, in recent times,” a Nepali diplomat said. “But I am sure the draft did not come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Nepali Embassy in Washington, DC.”
“The draft could have been sent through some unofficial channel to formalise the ongoing military-to-military and defence cooperation between Nepal and the US. If we decide to join the SPP, then we have to sign an MoU because it is not a treaty or convention,” the diplomat added.
He said US officials during their meetings with Nepali diplomats have been calling for formalising military and defence cooperation under a framework.
Both the Nepal Army and the US Embassy in Kathmandu have rejected claims that the US had sent a draft agreement on the SPP.
After the House committee instructed the government to collect all the documents and correspondence related to the SPP and submit them to Parliament, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and other agencies are working to gather all the SPP-related documents and correspondences, according to officials.
The Congress general secretaries said they decided to meet the prime minister and make the request after some foreign policy experts and diplomats asked them about the authenticity of the purported draft circulating in the media.
“Since everyone is discussing the purportedly leaked draft SPP document, which the US embassy has called fake, we must ascertain whether the document is authentic or not,” said Dinesh Bhattarai, who advised two prime ministers on foreign affairs in the past.
“In 2019, the US Indo-Pacific Strategy report included Nepal and Sri Lanka as emerging partners in the SPP. Did the government of the day write a protest letter to the US government by sending a diplomatic note saying that we disown it? If not, why are we tarnishing the image of the nation as an unreliable country? If the US had indeed sent an SPP document, then the government should find the original and write to the US. Otherwise, no one should do politics over a fake document,” said Bhattarai.
A leader close to Nepali Congress said general secretaries Thapa and Sharma must have realised that signing a controversial agreement ahead of crucial elections would harm the party’s prospects.
Meanwhile, a Nepali Congress office bearer claimed that the purported leak was an attempt to split the ruling alliance.
“But it turned out that a lot of covert correspondence was made when KP Oli was helming the government. So we have asked Deuba not to utter a single word on the SPP or else our electoral prospects could be ruined,” he said.
Meanwhile, former Nepali ambassador to the US, Yubaraj Khatiwada said Nepal’s defence and military cooperation with the US will continue, with or without the SPP.
Khatiwada served as Nepali Ambassador to US from February 2021 to September 2021. He was appointed by the KP Sharma Oli government.
During KP Oli’s first stint as prime minister, the Nepal Army on October 27, 2015 had written to the US with a request for aid under the SPP.
“The matter of concern to us is that such correspondence should be made through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and should not go through the military channel. When I was ambassador there, the US officials kept on telling us to sign the SPP but we kept on telling them about our geo-political sensitivity and our stated policy that we cannot become part of any military alliance,” said Khatiwada.
“When we have not entered into any pact, where does the question arise about coming out of it? We cannot afford to discontinue our military and defence ties with the US. At the technical level, we should continue our defence and military ties with the US but not under the security umbrella of the US.”
“When Nepal asked to participate in the programme in 2015, and again in 2017, the request involved civilian, government, and military leaders from Nepal, openly looking to take advantage of a programme focused on security cooperation and exchanges, and humanitarian assistance and disaster readiness,” said the embassy in the statement. “A country can simply inform the United States that they no longer wish to participate in the programme.”