There is no scope for repeal of sanctions against the Rapid Action Battalion without concrete action and accountability from them, said US Ambassador Peter Haas on Sunday.
"Regarding law enforcement, I will be honest. We want to see a RAB that remains effective at combatting terrorism, but that does so while respecting basic human rights," he said at a seminar tiled "Bangladesh and the United States Relations: Moving towards Enhanced Cooperation and Partnership" organised by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS).
"But RAB sanctions do not mean we cannot enhance our strong law enforcement security cooperation. We will continue to work with Bangladesh to combat transnational crime and terrorism, enhance border security, and prevent violent extremism," he added.
The United States on 10 December 2021 imposed sanctions on RAB and seven of its present and former top officials over allegations of human rights abuses.
The ambassador also mentioned that US continue their support to Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime police, the Anti-Terrorism Unit, and the specialised units of the Metropolitan Police in Chattogram, Sylhet, and Rajshahi.
"The signing of a proposed Memorandum of Agreement would facilitate our ability to implement our Anti-Terrorism Assistance training program and to donate new equipment to the police," he added.
Haas said the US will not take any side in the upcoming elections in Bangladesh and reiterated US commitment across the world to help countries strengthen democracy.
"Let me be clear. The United States will not pick a side in the upcoming elections. We simply hope for a democratic process that allows the Bangladeshi people to freely decide who will run their country."
As the chief guest, foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, said, "In fifty years, we will have some difficulties. But in the last three years, we have done very much. We established all the instruments necessary for a free, fair and transparent election. We look forward to that."
He invited the US ambassador to come with observers to see the next election.
"We want to improve any weaknesses and gaps by welcoming your suggestions and feedback," he added.
As one of the key presenters, Brig General (Retd) Dr M Sakhawat Hossain, a security analyst, said, "The foreign policy of Bangladesh is to develop a peaceful region. However, no relationship goes without ups and downs and hiccups."
Mentioning US diplomacy in Bangladesh, Ambassador Humayun Kabir, president, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI), said, "We have a tendency of looking at only the political aspects of diplomacy, but I think US policy has a huge social focus in Bangladesh with regard to say agriculture, private sector development, supporting civil society, disaster management, remittance, people to people connectivity, vaccine support.
"Whenever we talk about the US policy towards Bangladesh, we have to understand the comprehensiveness of US policies. We are increasingly getting interdependent on the political, diplomatic, economic, strategic and environmental dimension," he said as a key speaker.
"I think strengthening economic and strategic partnership is now getting some momentum, "he added.
US ready to move economic relationship forward
The US ambassador said he will welcome the inaugural visit of the Executive Committee of the US-Bangladesh Business Council next month.
"There are also new opportunities we can take advantage of together. For instance, the newly established US International Development Finance Corporation (or DFC) has a $4 billion active portfolio in South Asia across multiple sectors including clean energy, agriculture, healthcare, and banking," he said.
"Unfortunately, the DFC is unable to operate in Bangladesh for the same reason Bangladesh is ineligible for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefit: a lack of labour rights," he added.
The United States is committed to supporting Bangladesh's labour rights journey, including through targeted development assistance.
"The United States cannot do the hard work of enacting and enforcing laws that foster a transparent business environment. Nor can we meet the timelines laid out in the ILO Roadmap. These actions are up to Bangladesh. But we are ready to assist," he said.
Saying the US-Bangladesh relationship is at a turning point, he added, "The United States is ready to hit the gas to enhance our partnership and realise the great potential of our relationship."
To date, the US remains the largest source of foreign direct investment in Bangladesh, and the single largest market for Bangladeshi goods in the world, according to the US Chamber of Commerce.
Among others, Professor Ruksana Kibria, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka; Ambassador Tariq A Karim, director, Center for Bay of Bengal Studies, Independent University Bangladesh; and Major General Mohammad Maksudur Rahman, director general, BIISS, spoke at the event chaired by Ambassador Kazi Imtiaz Hossain, chairman, BIISS.