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OSCE Meeting Discusses Russian Security Plan

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the start of the 17th OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Athens

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the start of the 17th OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Athens

ATHENS (Reuters) -- Foreign ministers from Europe's main security organization met in Athens today to try to work out a response to Russia's proposal for a new Euro-Atlantic security pact.

Russia published a proposal on November 29 for a new security treaty that would restrict its own ability to use military force unilaterally provided the United States and its European allies agreed to do the same.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said the European Security Treaty is needed to replace Cold War-era institutions that are ill-suited to defusing tensions in a multipolar world, but his proposals have received a muted reception in the West.

Diplomats said it was not clear whether the two-day Athens meeting of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the United States and Russia, would make progress on the issue.

At a previous OSCE meeting in Greece in June, the West showed it was skeptical about the draft Russian plan, saying it should not undermine NATO or the OSCE. Ministers like France's Bernard Kouchner said there was no need for any new structures.

"The OSCE provides an irreplaceable framework for restoring confidence, for restoring trust and enhancing cooperation," Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said at the opening of the meeting. "Now we should decide how to move this process forward."

Russia and its fellow OSCE members have been at odds for months over the organization's monitoring mission in Georgia, the Black Sea state with which Russia fought a war in 2008. The mission closed down in June after months of fruitless talks on its mandate.

Relations have also deteriorated over issues such as the U.S. plan for a missile shield in Europe. The United States announced in September that it would roll back the plan.

"We need to break the deadlock of mistrust by reinvigorating our cooperation and strengthening our solidarity," Papandreou said in a statement published by the OSCE last month. "We must do so because unstable relations between our neighboring states affect security in Europe as a whole."

The president of the OSCE's parliamentary assembly, Joao Soares, said the OSCE had been become bogged down in bureaucracy and cumbersome decision-making process.

"This raises serious questions on the relevance...of the OSCE," Soares told the meeting. "The OSCE is in need of revival."

Several bilateral meetings are planned in the margins of the talks, including between Turkey and Greece and between Greece and Macedonia, to try to make progress towards settling a dispute over the latter's name.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not attend.