US Ambassador Peter Haas has sought to assure his hosts that even as it openly engages with various actors in the build-up to the next parliamentary elections, it is only the process to deliver a free and fair election that they are interested in – not who wins or loses.
Haas said this while addressing a meeting to exchange views with members of the Editors' Council, at a city hotel on Tuesday.
The editors engaged with the ambassador about the challenges faced by free and independent media in Bangladesh, not only due to stringent laws such as the Digital Security Act, but also in light of media ownership and how that affects the work of journalists.
The meeting was moderated by the council's president, Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star. Haas stressed that his country does not favour any one party in Bangladesh over the other, and urged all entities to play their proper role in ensuring free and fair elections.
The ambassador however pointed out that even with all its faults, within the USA there is constant pressure and debate to be transparent regarding violations of rights, in one word accountability, and institutions in place to work on them.
Addressing the economic crisis faced by Bangladesh due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Haas stated that no country is better off today than they were before Russia invaded Ukraine, but some countries are impacted more.
He also talked about transforming the foreign aid/ODA slant of the relationship between Dhaka and Washington to bring it in line with Bangladesh's graduation to a middle income country.
The ambassador said that the US International Development Finance Corporation provides private sector investment in infrastructure, innovation and women's economic empowerment, but it is governed by some of the same principles as the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), from which Bangladesh was excluded in 2013.
While Bangladesh has made great strides in worker safety since the Rana Plaza incident, the overall labour rights situation continues to be an 'impediment' to gaining, or regaining access to these privileges, Haas explained.
He also appreciated Bangladesh's role in opening its doors to the Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar, even in the absence of any expectation that they could be repatriated in the foreseeable future.
The ambassador was candid in conveying that the US cannot force the Myanmar junta to take the community back with no risk to their lives, even though they need repatriation.
"We need to make sure that they are not in despair, with no hope," he said.
Besides the moderator, the meeting was also attended by Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman, Daily Manabzamin Editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, Ajker Patrika Editor Golam Rahman, Bhorer Kagoj Editor Shyamal Dutta, Daily Ittefaq Editor Tasmima Hossain, Inqilab Editor AMM Bahauddin, Daily Samakal Acting Editor Mozammel Hossain, Bonik Barta Editor Dewan Hanif Mahmud, Financial Express Editor Shamsul Huq Zahid, Desh Rupantor Acting Editor Mustafa Mamun and Dhaka Tribune Associate Editor Abu Sayeed Asiful Islam.