Georgian and U.S. officials met in Tbilisi on January 21 to discuss expanding people-to-people and cultural exchange programs as envisaged by Charter on Strategic Partnership between to two countries signed in January, 2009.
A working group on people-to-people contacts is one of those four bilateral groups, which are addressing priority areas identified by the Charter. Security, democracy and economic development are three other areas. U.S.-Georgian bilateral working groups on security and democracy held their first meetings in Tbilisi in October and November, respectively.
Expanding education exchange programs and English-language trainings, as well as issues related with promoting economic, social and cultural integration of ethnic minorities within Georgia were discussed during the session, said Spencer Boyer, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of public diplomacy and public affairs.
Georgia’s planned new strategy towards its two breakaway regions, which among other issues, will also address fostering contacts between the communities on the both sides of the administrative borders, was also raised during the working group meeting.
“The goal of this strategy is to facilitate people-to-people contacts between our co-citizens living in the occupied territories and rest of the Georgian citizens… including through offering education opportunities to those citizens [living in the breakaway regions] and we hope that our [U.S.] partners will help us in this,” Giga Bokeria, the Georgian deputy foreign minister, said after the meeting.
John Bass, the U.S. ambassador in Georgia, said that the Georgian government’s strategy was not yet finalized so no specifics were discussed at the meeting.
“We talked briefly about the United States’ support for the objectives of the new strategy, which is not yet finalized and therefore it’s not really appropriate for us at this point to talk about specifics until we have a finalized strategy,” he said.
“Broadly speaking, we support the objectives of ensuring that all the citizens of Georgia are citizens of the world and have access to the world,” the U.S. ambassador added.
Giga Bokeria said it was early at this stage to speak about specific mechanism of how it will be possible to provide residents of the breakaway region an opportunity to participate in various educational programs.
“This is a fundamental issue of the strategy and we hope that we will be able to provide to our co-citizens with these opportunities without politicizing the issue,” Bokeria said. “We all understand that there are forces, the occupying one, which can create obstacles, but we will try to by-pass these political barriers.”