Ljubljana, 6 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The two-day conference had opened amid Russian concerns about the organization’s election-monitoring activities in former Soviet countries.
But it was another issue altogether that took center stage at the Ljubljana conference, which for the third year in row ended with a statement by the group’s chairman rather than a text formally approved by all 55 members.
Diplomats have told RFE/RL that the draft final document failed to win Russian approval largely due to a paragraph referring to the presence of Russian military forces in Moldova's breakaway province of Transdniester.
Russia has yet to withdraw its troops from either Transdniester or Georgia, despite having promised to do so at an OSCE summit meeting in Istanbul in 1999.
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns addressed that issue at a news conference today in Ljubljana. "We regret the continued lack of movement in 2005 on the withdrawal of Russian military forces from Moldova, and we call upon the Russian Federation to use its vast influence in the region to resume and complete that important work," he said. "This would also send an important signal to the separatist regime in Tiraspol that a status quo which they may find convenient will not last forever."
Diplomats said that while Russia had doubts about some of the other 22 paragraphs in the draft Ljubljana document, it’s veto of that document was sparked by one passage.
The text read: "The foreign ministers of the OSCE note the lack of movement in 2005 on withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova. They reaffirmed their shared determination to promote the fulfillment of that commitment as soon as possible."
Earlier in the day, Burns had linked Moldova to U.S. approval of new agreement on conventional weapons. The proposed agreement says individual countries have the right to decide whether they wanted foreign troops on their territory or not. He said both Moldova and Georgia had made clear that they did not want Russian troops on their territory.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, the outgoing OSCE chairman in office, concluded that "It is unfortunate that after six years we are still debating the 1999 Istanbul commitments on the withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova."
However, there were signs of progress elsewhere.
The OSCE feels it played a role in progress made this year on the withdrawal of Russian military forces in Georgia. One diplomat told journalists, "It’s ever so slow, but at least there are hints of movement."
The OSCE also believes it can take some credit for improvement in another slow-moving negotiation -- the long-running dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. The OSCE has long been involved in efforts to negotiate a settlement. Other players have now been brought into the negotiations.
The two-day gathering also appeared to offer an interim solution to Russian concerns about the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which, among other things, runs election-monitoring operations.
Complaints by Moscow that OSCE election monitoring in places like Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia were biased led Russia to temporarily block the organization’s budget this year.
Speaking to reporters here yesterday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced some of Russia’s concerns: "As far as the core area [of OSCE activities] is concerned, an area that provokes the most heated discussions, and that is election monitoring, it is absolutely necessary to introduce clear and transparent principles and methods with respect to the composition of observer missions and the appointment of their leaders."
But today, Lavrov said Moscow could live with a compromise deal on monitoring.
This month, the ODIHR will conduct an intensive review of what it does and consider whether some of its practices could be improved or changed. At the end of the year, the ODIHR will present its recommendations to the OSCE foreign ministers, who will then decide what changes are needed.
Diplomats in Ljubljana concede that this sets the stage for confrontation next year between pro-ODIHR states and those who oppose its methods. But it did satisfy Russia for the time being.
Most diplomats credit Rupel for creating a new atmosphere in the organization over the last year. Above all, his frequent trips to Moscow and consultations with the Russians are said to have played a major role in recently lifting the veto on the budget.
Rupel also satisfied Russian demands for a revision of the contributions made by the 55 member states to the OSCE budget. The outcome is that Russia will pay less and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy will pay more into the budget.
In his closing address today, Rupel outlined some of the tasks facing Belgium as it takes over the OSCE chairmanship for the next year. He said the OSCE will have to capitalize on the work done this year in Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh. He strongly urged the government of Kyrgyzstan to expedite constitutional reform, saying, "this was a promise made to the Kyrgyz people and in many ways is a cornerstone of lasting stability."
Speaking about his own region, he said the role of the OSCE in the western Balkans will remain important. He also called on the OSCE to help Serbia achieve a clear European perspective.