Kazakhstan To Assume OSCE Chairmanship In 2010
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U.S. Undersecretary Burns allowed for some compromise in Madrid (AFP)
MADRID, December 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakhstan will become the first ex-Soviet state to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), it was announced here at the close of the organization's annual ministerial meeting.
The oil-rich Central Asian state will occupy the chair in 2010 -- one year later than it had sought, OSCE spokeswoman Virginie Coulloudon told RFE/RL just after the two-day summit's final press conference on November 30.
The United States reportedly gave its backing after securing a Kazakh "pledge" that Astana would "protect" the OSCE's election-monitoring body, whose role Russia had proposed to alter.
Contentious Image Boost
Astana had considered it symbolically important that Kazakhstan be the first of the former Soviet republics to lead the 56-country organization. The Kazakh government has for years told its people that holding the OSCE chairmanship would show that the international community was taking notice of Kazakhstan's growing importance in the world community.
Critics pointed to the contradiction between Kazakhstan's weak human rights record and the OSCE's stated goals to promote democracy and human rights.
The OSCE's election-monitoring arm, the Organization for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), monitored Kazakhstan's parliamentary elections in August and acknowledged that the country had made progress, but said a number of international standards went unmet.
Russia, meanwhile, solidly backed Kazakhstan's bid for the OSCE chairmanship. Speaking in Madrid on November 30, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov chided detractors.
"Unfortunately, during the several years that have preceded today's meeting, there were absolutely unacceptable and unseemly maneuvers concerning this bid aimed at creating conditions on the right of a specific country -- an equal member of the OSCE -- to chair this organization by making demands on its internal and external policies," Lavrov said.
Russia and the United States came into the summit with sharply different views on a number of issues, most pertaining to Moscow's efforts to reorient the OSCE and its agencies toward security issues and away from the democracy agenda.
In Madrid, their differences were on display in the cool response Washington gave to Moscow's proposal -- backed by Kazakhstan and five other CIS countries -- to limit to 50 the number of ODIHR monitors sent to cover any future election and to put monitoring teams under the control of participating states.
"The United States will protect ODIHR," U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said on November 30. "We will oppose the Russian proposal, which would weaken and perhaps even cripple ODIHR. We will not support any compromise proposal that would be negative or problematic or damaging to ODIHR."
The issue was clearly in the spotlight after the OSCE earlier this cancelled its mission to observe Russia's December 2 parliamentary elections because Moscow had repeatedly denied visa requests to ODIHR observers. Russian President Vladimir Putin subsequently accused the United States of being behind the OSCE's decision to pull out -- an allegation strongly denied by U.S. officials.
Russian officials, meanwhile, denied that they were attempting to undermine ODIHR. "I think that no one in the OSCE, including the Russian Federation, intends to weaken the mandate of ODIHR," Lavrov said on November 30. "This mandate, anyway, is weak -- totally vague -- and we want to strengthen it, and we are going to work on that."
ODIHR head Christian Strohal countered that opinion during an interview with RFE/RL on the sidelines of the summit. "We have a mandate for a long-term observation, and we try to fulfill this mandate as professionally and as effectively as we can," Strohal said. "We also appreciate the fact that we are joined in many elections which we observe by the parliamentarians from the Parliamentary Assembly [of the OSCE], who bring the particular expertise of politicians, parliamentarians who bring the particular expertise of politicians, parliamentarians."
In the end, compromise reportedly led to Kazakhstan being chosen to head the OSCE in 2010 and agreement on who would lead the organization through 2011.
Greece was chosen as chair in 2009, and Lithuania in 2011. Finland had already been set take over the chairmanship from Spain in 2008.
In closing out the summit, OSCE Chairman in Office Miguel Angel Moratinos said the developments were a sign of the stability of the organization.
But the jawboning that dominated much of the Madrid meeting could bolster perceptions that the most influential of the organization's participating states are moving along sharply different trajectories.