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Europe: Reform On Agenda At OSCE Summit Set For December

Vienna, 22 November 2004 (RF/RL) -- The OSCE is debating whether it should transfer some of its operations out of its headquarters in Vienna to Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Senior diplomats in Vienna said the debate was sparked by demands from Russia and five other former Soviet states that criticized the centralized control in Vienna and argued that OSCE was too focused on Western standards for human rights and parliamentary elections.

Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) members are seeking a broad reform of the OSCE with a greater role for Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. It wants some of the OSCE's major meetings to be held in these countries. Their views are partly supported by other countries that believe the OSCE should take a fresh look at where its efforts can be most useful.

Their ideas will be debated by the foreign ministers of OSCE's 55 member governments at a meeting in Sofia on 6-7 December. The head of the Russian delegation to the OSCE, Aleksei Borodavkin, has told the OSCE that Moscow insists on the adoption of at least some of the reform proposals.
Moscow was angered recently when the OSCE declared that the 17 October elections in Belarus fell short of democratic standards. In response, it created a Russian/CIS monitoring group that found the Belarus poll had been democratic, free, and fair.

Richard Murphy is a spokesman for the organization: "The CIS countries have made some very interesting calls -- proposals -- for reform of the organization. We have not seen great detail yet but I don't doubt that this will be very much on the agenda in Sofia."

The OSCE's outgoing chairman, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, has urged governments to modernize the organization. Pasi recently sent a letter to member countries in which he said reforms were necessary if the OSCE is to meet modern challenges. Pasi retires at the Sofia meeting and will be succeeded by the foreign minister of Slovenia.

One of the most urgent reforms in Pasi's view is a redistribution of OSCE funds. He told a recent OSCE meeting that about 50 percent of the organization's resources are allocated to southeastern Europe, while only 6 percent is spent in Central Asia and 15 percent in the Caucasus.

Murphy said Pasi believes funds should be transferred from OSCE operations in the Balkans and used in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

"The chairman-in-office, Solomon Pasi, has put forward a number of reform proposals of his own," Murphy said. "These include shifting resources from the Balkans to the Caucasus and Central Asia [and] perhaps moving some meetings which [now] take place in cities such as Vienna or Prague [and] moving them further east -- to the eastern parts of the OSCE area."

Pasi has proposed that the OSCE's two biggest annual meetings by moved soon. They are the economic forum, now held in Prague, and the conference on human rights and democracy, now held in Warsaw.

In letters to member states, Pasi argued the economic forum should be held in Central Asia and the human rights meeting in the Caucasus.

Russian delegate Borodavkin told the OSCE permanent council recently that election monitoring is one of the areas in which Moscow is seeking change. OSCE regularly monitors elections in member countries and publishes an assessment of whether they were democratic or non-democratic. It sent a team of monitors to the United States for the recent presidential election there.

Moscow was angered recently when the OSCE declared that the 17 October elections in Belarus fell short of democratic standards. In response, it created a Russian/CIS monitoring group that found the Belarus poll had been democratic, free, and fair.

The Sofia meeting will also examine internal conflicts in Georgia, Moldova, and Nagorno-Karabakh. A spokesman said the United States and other Western critics will again try to persuade Moscow to withdraw its troops from Georgia and Moldova as promised in 1999.

However, OSCE spokesman Murphy said it is unlikely that any substantial progress will be made on these problems.

"We are not expecting any major breakthroughs on complex issues like the internal conflicts in Georgia and Moldova or the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh," Murphy said. "But we do hope to see a constructive dialogue on these issues and a renewed commitment by the OSCE states to continue their efforts to resolve these long-standing disputes."

One issue not expected to excite controversy is the OSCE's commitment to fighting terrorism. OSCE officials have said this year's attacks in Madrid and on the Beslan school in southern Russia emphasized the danger terrorism poses across the entire OSCE region.

OSCE will issue a declaration on terrorism at the Sofia meeting. Murphy said it is expected to suggest a number of joint measures on which OSCE's 55 member governments can cooperate. These include closer inspection of containers in which goods are shipped around the world and tighter security at military bases.