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OSCE: U.S.-Russia Confrontation Expected At Meeting

Russia has balked at fulfilling its OSCE commitment to withdraw its troops from Transdniester (RFE/RL) The stage is set for a confrontation between Russia and the United States and its allies at next week's meeting in Slovenia of the foreign ministers of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The conference (5-6 December) in Ljubljana will review negotiations that took place during the year to meet Russia's demands for changes in the way the OSCE operates. Diplomats say Russia has achieved a few of its goals but major changes -- particularly on election monitoring -- have been forcefully rejected by the United States. Moscow’s uneasy relations with Georgia and Moldova are also expected to be discussed in the closed-door talks with Russia that take place during the conference.

Vienna, 2 December 2005 (RFE/RL) --- A year ago, Russia blocked the OSCE's budget for several months to force the 55 member states to consider changes in some of its operations.

It lifted its veto when other countries agreed to talks on its demands .

Diplomats told RFE/RL that Russia achieved some of its goals in the yearlong negotiations but met what some described as an "iron veto" from the United States and its allies on its efforts to place restrictions on OSCE election monitoring.

Russia also failed to win support for its demands to renegotiate some agreements on military security and commitments made at the Istanbul conference in 2000.

Western diplomats told RFE/RL they don’t expect Russia to accept the West’s position as a final answer. They expect Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to renew Moscow’s demands and possibly present new ones in talks at the conference.

But the United States and its allies deny that the differences signal a crisis in the OSCE which could lead to its breaking up. A member of the U.S. delegation, Kyle Scott, says the United States sees the OSCE as a vigorous organization with clear goals for strengthening democracy in member states.

"The United States believes the OSCE remains a strong and vibrant organisation which is making positive steps on a broad range of issues," Scott said.

Russia’s main victory in the yearlong negotiations was an agreement to reduce its contributions to the OSCE budget.

If next week’s Ljubljana conference accepts the agreement, Russia’s share of the overall budget will sink from the present 9 percent of the total to 6 percent by 2007. The proposed agreement also allows Moscow to pay less into the separate budget for OSCE field operations, which it has often criticized.

To make up the shortfall, the United States will increase its share of the main budget from the current 9 percent to 11.5 percent. It will also contribute more to the costs of the field operations. Other Western countries, including Germany, France, Italy, and Great Britain, will also pay more into the budget.

However, Moscow failed to win support for most of the other proposals on its wish list.

The chief U.S. delegate to the OSCE , Julie Finley, told a meeting in September that there were some proposals that it would not support. Diplomats told RFE/RL this week that America’s position has not softened.

At the top of the U.S. "no" list is Moscow’s desire to weaken the OSCE’s human rights department, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) . Its main task is to monitor elections -- not only in postcommunist countries but also in the United States, Great Britain, and other Western states. It also organizes seminars and workshops on democratic issues in postcommunist countries.

The ODIHR angered Moscow with its sharp criticisms of the lack of democratic standards in recent elections in Belarus and some other postcommunist states. Some Russian officials also accuse the ODIHR of meddling in the turbulent election in Ukraine last year, which eventually brought the Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko to power.

One of Moscow’s demands is that the ODIHR’s election-monitoring teams should no longer be allowed to issue a preliminary report on the fairness of an election soon after the polls close. Russia argues that the report should be submitted first to a meeting of all 55 member states of the OSCE, which would then decide whether it should be published.

Skeptical Western diplomats point out that all decisions made by the OSCE must be unanimous, so it would be simple for Russia or any country to kill an unfavorable report by refusing consensus.

However, Western diplomats told RFE/RL they share Russia’s view that there should be better training for election monitors. The West also agrees with Russia on widening the number of countries from which the monitors are drawn.

U.S. delegate Scott said the more qualified people the OSCE can attract as monitors, the better it is for the organization. "The strength of the OSCE is, in fact, the independence of its election monitoring and the neutral nature of it...that they are seen as a nonbiased observer," he said. "And the more people that we can get in who are well-qualified and understand the basic mechanisms of running a free and fair election, the better off I think the OSCE is."

The United States and its allies also reject Russian demands to end a practice that allows governments to finance democracy-building projects not covered by the ordinary OSCE budget. The United States contributes heavily to these projects and has told Russia it will continue to do so. The West argues that without this extra financial support many democracy-building projects could never be realized.

Russia has also argued without success that the OSCE should revise the system of military confidence-building measures that were agreed in the 1980’s after years of negotiation. Although the agreements have been updated, Russia believes changes are necessary.

In her statement in September, U.S. delegation head Finley said: "We are against negotiating new traditional arms-control measures. But we may be willing to consider specific proposals if there is a clear security need to be addressed."

Russia was also unsuccessful in trying to persuade the OSCE to reopen the agreements reached by OSCE government leaders at a summit meeting in Istanbul in 2000. They include a commitment by Russia to withdraw all its military forces and military equipment from Moldova’s breakaway territory of Transdniester and to close its remaining military bases in Georgia.

The United States and its allies told Russia they were prepared to consider proposals to update or refine specific elements of existing commitments . However, they must first be convinced there was a clear security need before agreeing to any changes.

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