Joint Statement of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission Working Group on People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges (November 24)

The U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission’s (SPC) Working Group on People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges met on November 13 in Washington to advance cooperation in the areas of public outreach, education, health, and cultural and sports exchanges.  The meeting builds on the November 2 plenary session of the SPC hosted in Washington by Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland during the visit of Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili.

The United States reaffirmed its strong commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence.  The United States also expressed support for the Georgian government’s work to expand outreach and services to the residents of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia, and commended Georgia on its measured reaction to Russia’s provocations and ongoing occupation of those regions in violation of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement.  Both sides agreed on the value of people-to-people engagement to build relationships and advance reconciliation.  The Working Group also commended the adoption of Georgia’s Civil Equality and Integration Action Plan, highlighting the importance of promoting tolerance and inclusiveness for religious and ethnic minorities, and reviewed ongoing programs to advance these important goals.

The Working Group discussed efforts to improve strategic communications on Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration, particularly by raising awareness of the benefits that the integration process brings to the citizens of Georgia, and by strengthening independent media and access to objective information.

The Working Group applauded the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s support for development of the Georgian workforce through strategic investments in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and vocational training.  They also highlighted U.S. government programs that are strengthening primary and civic education in Georgia and expanding inclusive educational opportunities for Georgian children with special needs.   The Working Group noted the value of Peace Corps English language programs for Georgian students and agreed on the importance of U.S.-sponsored student exchange programs and deepening cooperation between U.S. and Georgian universities.

The Working Group reviewed plans to hold Georgian cultural days in the United States in 2016, along with other relevant activities to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Georgia regaining its independence.  The Georgian participants noted their goal of supporting youth activities throughout Georgia by increasing the accessibility of non-formal education services, including for youth with disabilities, and developing training programs for youth organizations.  They also proposed increased cooperation between the two countries on sports-related programs and stressed the importance of encouraging more women and girls to get involved in sports.

Both sides agreed to further deepen the partnership in health, including by expanding collaborative projects in science and communicable and non-communicable diseases.  The Working Group discussed in particular the success and sustainability of ongoing Hepatitis C and tuberculosis treatment programs.  The United States praised Georgia’s work on advancing the Global Health Security Agenda, and encouraged Georgia to take on a regional leadership role in that regard.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Benjamin Ziff, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Jonathan Katz, Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze, and Georgian First Deputy State Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili co-chaired the Working Group, which also included the participation of a broad group of interagency partners.