A secret White House memo sent to President John F. Kennedy, now declassified, stated relations with Ceylon had turned from ‘bad to worse’ and urged the US leader to find a friendly resolution to save Srimavo Bandaranaike’s government from ‘left wing’ pressure in 1963, four months before the President’s assassination.
During the early 1960s former US President John F. Kennedy and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) Prime Minister exchanged telegraphs on a range issues from US nuclear testing in the Pacific, nationalizing of oil companies in Ceylon to the Buddhist crisis in South Vietnam.
“Our relations with Ceylon have gone from bad to worse since we had to suspend aid last February under the Hickenlooper Amendment,” R.W. Komer, White House National Security Council (NSC) wrote to President JFK in a secret memo in July 1963 prior to the latter’s meeting between to Ceylon Ambassador Merenna Francis de Silva Jayaratne to discuss the Buddhist Crisis in South Vietnam. The amendment, aimed at Cuba cut funding to any government expropriating US property, Ceylon had nationalised the petroleum industry under the government of Srimavo Bandaranaike.
Komer described the Ceylon ambassador as more “West friendly” than his government.
“Left wing in Ceylon used this as a stick to force Bandaranaike in a even more extremist direction and now oil companies are likely to be squeezed out entirely. While we can’t retreat from our position, a few kind words from you about our desire to reach amicable resolution may stiffen Bandaranaike’s spine,” he added.
Komer told President Kennedy to review State Department briefings, “on how you may handle this hot potato.”
The shooting deaths of nine persons and the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk protesting the religious discrimination by the South Vietnam government was laid out in a letter by then Prime Minister Bandaranike to President Kennedy. Bandaranike personally described Kennedy as a “champion of freedom” who could save the Buddhists of south Vietnam. (Courtesy- The Sri Lanka Reporter)
President John F. Kennedy meets with members of the Parliament of Ceylon. President Kennedy sits in a rocking chair and the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Walt W. Rostow stands fourth from the left (behind two men). Also included in the President’s schedule: Leader of the Ceylonese House of Representatives, Charles Percival de Silva; Clerk of the House, Ralph St. L. P. Deraniyagala; Members of the House, Sir Razik Fareed, Dr. N. M. Perera, Jinadasa Don Weerasekera; Ambassador of Ceylon, R. S. S. Gunewardene; Director of the United States Operations Mission to Ceylon, James C. Baird, Jr. Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. (Picture Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)
President John F. Kennedy meets with newly appointed Ambassador of Ceylon William Gopallawa in 1961 at the White House.
Memo sent to President JFK from R.W. Komer White House National Security Council (NSC). (Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum Boston)