WASHINGTON (AP) — Sri Lanka's foreign minister expressed optimism Thursday of winning a delay in the publication of a U.N. report into alleged war crimes committed in the island nation's civil war.

Sri Lanka's new government says it wants time to set up its own judicial mechanism to probe human rights violations that would follow up on the findings of the U.N. investigation, due in March.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera was speaking after meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry.

Thousands of civilians are suspected to have died in the final months of the war in 2009 when government forces crushed a quarter-century fight for an ethnic homeland by ethnic Tamil rebels.

Samaraweera said the decision to approve a delay would lie with the U.N. human rights commissioner and the U.N human rights council council, but said he anticipated "the support of all our friends in the coming months."

"We have requested a delay so that the report itself can be referred immediately to the domestic mechanism we are proposing," Samaraweera told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington.

Washington's assent to push back the report, perhaps until September, will be important. It was a U.S.-backed resolution approved by the U.N. human rights council last year authorized the investigation by the world body.

U.S. officials declined to comment Thursday on the proposal for a delay, which Samaraweera expected would be taken up by a procedural committee of the council next Monday.

Speaking before Thursday's meeting, Kerry said Sri Lanka had voted in a January election for change, opening up the possibility for greater accountability, respect for human rights and action against corruption.

Samaraweera's visit to Washington comes a month after the surprise defeat at the ballot box for former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who ended a civil war but faced international isolation for failing to probe civilian deaths.

Samaraweera said Sri Lanka was seeking to revive strong relations with the U.S. that were strained under the previous government.

Rajapaksa had forged closer ties with China.

There will be some international skepticism over the call for a delay in the U.N. report because of Sri Lanka's past stalling on action on accountability.

But because of early moves by the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena to foster reconciliation in Sri Lanka and institute democratic reforms, it is likely to get a sympathetic hearing.

Prosecuting wartime abuses remains a delicate issue that divides the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. The U.N report will be politically sensitive ahead of June parliamentary elections.