Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States: Who Is Prasad Kariyawasam?
On June 23, 2014, Prasad Kariyawasam, a longtime member of his country’s Foreign Service, took over as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United States.
Kariyawasam was born March 21, 1954, in Galle, near the southern tip of Sri Lanka, to educators Pragnadasa and Anula Kariyawasam. He was a Boy Scout and a cricket player; one of the best of his age group in the country, in fact. He was captain of the Richmond College Galle team in 1972 when, in a match against Mahinda College, Kariyawasam scored an unbeaten 156 runs. He then attended the University of Peradeniya, where he also played cricket and graduated in 1978 with a B.S. in mathematics.
Kariyawasam joined the Sri Lankan Foreign Service in 1981. His early postings included Geneva, Switzerland, from 1983 to 1987; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992; and as a minister in the Washington embassy beginning in 1995. In 1998, Kariyawasam was moved to the Department of the High Commissioner in New Delhi, India.
He returned to Geneva as Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations mission there, also serving as consul general to Switzerland, ambassador to the Holy See (Vatican City) and representative to the G-15. He returned home to serve as director general of the Economic Affairs Division and as an additional secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With the UN, he served on committees dealing with human rights, racism, migration issues, disarmament and terrorism.
Kariyawasam moved to New York in 2005 as permanent representative to the UN, also serving as high commissioner to Jamaica and the Bahamas, as well as ambassador to Chile and Colombia. In his work at the UN, Kariyawasam fought the proliferation of small arms from Western nations, drawing criticism from the National Rifle Association for his efforts.
A 2005 State Department cable, released by WikiLeaks, praised Kariyawasam enthusiastically, including his “professionalism, good judgment and familiarity with the U.S.”
According to the cable, “His appreciation of the ‘bigger picture’ issues related to US-Sri Lankan relations has been especially beneficial during our recent bilateral MCA discussions. For example, despite his personal reservations about certain MCA [Millennium Challenge Account] requirements, he nonetheless recognized the importance of securing a compact to our overall relations, contributing to the process by pushing a draft proposal through the labyrinthine Sri Lankan bureaucracy and advocating for an improved consultative process.”
Kariyawasam also served in Colombo as director of the Foreign Ministry’s South Asia Division and was the official spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 2009, Kariyawasam was made high commissioner to India, as well as ambassador to Afghanistan and Bhutan. While in New Delhi, Kariyawasam created a controversy when he urged that some Indian Members of Parliament be investigated for ties to the Tamil Tigers, the rebel group that fought a civil war in Sri Lanka for more than 25 years.
Kariyawasam’s wife, Kanthi, whom he married in 1981, is a biomedical researcher at Georgetown University. They have two grown children: a daughter, Mayooka, who graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in computer science and a son, Pramodh. Kariyawasam speaks English and Sinhala.
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