U.S., Russia to Discuss Prison Conditions, Migration
Rahvusvahelised uudised 24 May 2010  EWR
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Issues will be focus of May 27 civil society working group meeting
Keida Kostreci, America.gov

Washington — Prison conditions and migration are the central issues to be discussed at the next session of the Civil Society Working Group, to be held May 27 in Russia, the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) confirms.

Representatives from the United States and Russia each will talk about their experience with these issues, as they did during their first full-scale working group in January. The working group is co-chaired by Michael McFaul, a special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia and Eurasia at the NSC, and Vladislav Surkov, first deputy chief of staff of the presidential executive office.

The civil society group meeting is being held under the auspices of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission created in July 2009 by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as part of the “reset” in relations between the two countries.

The January civil society meeting dealt with civil society’s role in helping to fight corruption. Other issues that were discussed included protecting children — including from human trafficking and sexual exploitation — and fighting stereotypes in both countries.

After the meeting, McFaul said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the United States sees the working group process “as an exchange of information on how we deal with these problems respectively in our countries, and then [the idea is] to create a forum for Russian and American NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] to meet with each other.”

“There are many other mechanisms, means, presidential statements, meetings of our presidents, where we can express our disagreement and our concern about human rights issues, corruption issues, the whole list of issues we have, and we do that rather militantly, I would say, in the Obama administration. I think it’s wrong to think that this is our only way that we can engage on fostering the development of civil society and democracy in Russia. I personally don’t see it that way at all. I see it as one of many mechanisms.”

The May 26 meeting in the city of Vladimir — 200 kilometers (124 miles) east of Moscow — will include both government and nongovernmental representatives.

This kind of approach is in line with the Obama administration’s idea of engaging Russian society directly by creating opportunities for peer-to-peer interaction as an effective way to promote democracy and human rights. President Obama focused on this theme at a U.S.-Russia civil society meeting in Moscow in July 2009.

“We not only need a ‘reset’ button between the American and Russian governments, but we need a fresh start between our societies — more dialogue, more listening, more cooperation in confronting common challenges,” Obama said.

The Bilateral Presidential Commission’s goal is to address new challenges through cooperative projects that strengthen strategic stability, international security, mutual economic well-being and the development of ties between the Russian and American people.

In addition to the civil society group, there are 15 other groups working to promote cooperation in areas such as security, business, energy, culture and education, counternarcotics, agriculture and space.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)
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