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Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomes OSCE, U.S. officials

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, February 21
Knut Wollebek, OSCE High Commissioner on Ethnic Minorities and Celeste Wallander, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, will visit Georgia this week.

As Nino Kalandadze, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced on Monday, Wollebek will meet with government officials, the Public Defender, and the diplomatic corps. The High Commissioner hopes to investigate the conditions of ethnic minorities during his February 22-23 visit.

From February 22-24, Wallander intends to discuss Georgian-U.S. cooperation on security-related issues. Kalanadze called Wallander’s visit an “echo” of the presidential meeting between Barack Obama and Mikheil Saakashvili in January. “The U.S. has a great interest in raising Georgia’s security,” she said.

Kalandadze also spoke of the replacement of U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, John Bass, as a part of the Foreign Service rotational cycle. She said when the current ambassador's term ends this year, his successor will be introduced to the relevant legislative bodies in Georgia.

U.S. President Obama announced the current crop of high-level Foreign Service posts on the White House’s website February 17. Among them was future Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland, a career member of the Foreign Service who is currently serving as the International Affairs Advisor and Deputy Commandant at the National War College in Washington, D.C.

The Deputy Minister also spoke of the Georgian sailors detained in the port of Sukhumi, in Abkhazia. Although the Ministry has received updated information from the Georgian consulate in Turkey, Kalandadze refrained from providing details about the issue, but stressed that the Ministry is working to release the sailors as soon as possible. “It would be speculation from us to say when and how they would be released,” she said.

The four Georgian sailors on a Panama-flagged ship arrived in Sukhumi over a year ago, on their way to Bulgaria. According to Georgian officials in Turkey, Abkhazian coast-guards detained the crew for violating the “waters of Abkhazia”.

Speaking of the possibility of granting Ala Jioeva, de-facto winner of last year's South Ossetian presidential elections, political asylum, Kalandadze speculated that people living in the breakaway regions are developing a critical view of Russia. Jioeva suffered a stroke and other injuries after being harassed by law enforcement officers who raided her office in Tskhinvali.

The Turkish government has asked that two mosques be built on Georgian territory, in exchange for the restoration of Georgian Orthodox monasteries in the historically Georgian Tao-Klarjeti region of Turkey. Kalandadze hoped that active inter-state consultations will satisfy the interests of both countries. “The Georgian side feels responsible for preserving Georgian cultural monuments,” she said.

Kalandadze also said that the agreement on restoring Georgian and Turkish historical monuments has yet to be signed. Mentioning the many issues to be resolved, and the controversial nature of the exchange, she said that despite year-long talks, no final consensus has been achieved.