Foreign diplomats to visit Atlanta for unprecedented tour

So later this month, the State Department will lead a group of about 50 foreign diplomats to the city, where they're scheduled to get an insider's perspective on Atlanta and the South from the likes of former President Jimmy Carter, Gov. Sonny Perdue, Mayor Kasim Reed and even CNN's Sanjay Gupta.

The Oct. 12-15 visit is part of the State Department's "Experience America" program for foreign diplomats, and the first such visit under the program to any Southern city.

"Atlanta just has a wonderful story for us to tell about America," said U.S. Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall, the government's chief of protocol who's leading the field trip. "I think people think it's a very cosmopolitan city and there's a growing economic community that [a lot of] foreign investment goes into."

It's Atlanta's business scene that diplomats seem most interested in, Marshall said. On the agenda is breakfast with business leaders at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and visits to Coca-Cola Co. and CNN. Several ambassadors expressed interest in meeting with airline executives while in town, too, she said.

Also on the agenda: a discussion on election monitoring and Guinea worms with Carter at the former president's library; a wreath laying at the crypt of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; tours of Georgia Tech and Morehouse College; and a roundtable discussion moderated by CNN's Gupta at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Government leaders described the visit as a coup for the city.

"Atlanta has long been an international city, and this type of dialogue and engagement is essential to strengthening our ties with leaders from around the globe," Reed said.

Added Perdue: "This is a strong testament to Atlanta's reputation as an international leader in business, logistics, education and research. I expect this event to lead directly to closer diplomatic and economic ties for Georgia across the globe."

A similar State Department-sponsored visit to Chicago by the diplomatic corps earlier this year yielded some interesting results, according to Marshall.

After a meeting with executives from McDonald's, which is based in the Chicago area, the ambassador from Kosovo helped persuade the fast-food chain to open its first restaurant in Kosovo, she said.

And after touring the Cabrini-Green housing development in Chicago, the ambassador from Iraq returned to the city a few months later with a contingent of Iraqi officials who were interested in learning how the city transformed the development from a high-rise housing project with an infamous reputation into a modern mixed-use development.

"There were some significant relationships that were made" between foreign diplomats and Chicago-area officials, Marshall said.

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