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OSCE: Foreign Ministers Adopt Broad-Ranging Action Plan To Combat Terrorism

Foreign ministers from the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) yesterday ended a two-day conference in Bucharest. The meeting, which was clouded by the ongoing Middle East violence, included the adoption of an antiterrorism action plan drawn up urgently in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States. But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who attended the meeting, said the OSCE can and should do even more to fight terrorism.

Prague, 5 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Foreign ministers from the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) yesterday in Bucharest concluded their annual meeting by adopting an action plan aimed at combating international terrorism.

The two-day meeting of the OSCE's Ninth Ministerial Council opened amid ongoing Middle East violence and the U.S.-led international coalition's war against terror in Afghanistan.

Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who is currently chairman-in-office of the OSCE, said the broad-ranging action plan on counterterrorism measures was drawn up rapidly in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States.

Geoana said the past three months have been dominated by the fallout of the attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Geoana said the attacks not only endangered the security of the U.S., but posed a direct threat to what he called "our common values, our security and stability."

The conference's final statement yesterday said the OSCE plan is aimed at taking precautionary measures to eradicate the causes of terrorism by fighting political, economic, and social inequalities.

Under the plan, OSCE members pledge to become parties to all 12 United Nations conventions and protocols relating to terrorism by the end of 2002.

OSCE members also vow to provide technical and financial assistance to Central Asian states to use in countering "external threats" connected to terrorism.

The seven-page document contains a series of measures to boost the cooperation and exchange of information between members and to provide for a stronger OSCE role in improving the law-enforcement systems and antiterrorism policies of member states.

OSCE members also pledge to prevent the movement of terrorist individuals or groups through improved border checks and controls on the issuing of identification papers and travel documents.

The OSCE was established in Helsinki in 1975 and is the largest regional security body in the world, grouping the United States, Canada, and all European countries as well as former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Bucharest yesterday, praised the progress the organization has made over the last quarter of a century and said the U.S. is ready to cooperate with all member states to ensure that the OSCE remains what he called "a force of freedom."

"Today, all 55 nations of OSCE are truly independent nations, able to chart their own course for the new century. We must not forget the sacrifices of the men and women who braved totalitarian repression to ensure that the commitments made [in 1975] in Helsinki were kept. In the years ahead, the United States looks forward to working with all of you, to ensure that the OSCE remains a vital, vibrant, and effective force for freedom, prosperity, and peace in Europe and throughout the world."

Powell said Washington fully supported the action plan against terrorism, describing it as "a resolute expression of our collective will." However, he urged member states to step up efforts even further to combat what he called "the scourge of terrorism."

European Union External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten also stressed that more needs to be done to prevent terrorism. Patten on 3 December said it was up to the West to do more to help stabilize impoverished countries in the OSCE region.

Patten warned that what he called "today's weak states" can easily turn into "tomorrow's failed states," which could attract terrorists "like flies around a carcass."

He did not specify any countries, but he did say the EU would pay more attention to the states of Central Asia bordering Afghanistan, and planned to double aid to the region.

Powell, whose stop in Bucharest marked the beginning of a 10-nation tour to consolidate support for U.S. campaign in Afghanistan and against global terrorism, also praised the OSCE's growing role in bringing stability to volatile regions such as the former Yugoslavia and Chechnya.

Powell welcomed the ongoing withdrawal of Russia's heavy military equipment from Moldova under a 1999 OSCE accord. He pointed out that Moscow should completely withdraw its forces and munitions from the former Soviet republic by the end of 2002 and said the U.S. was ready to support this effort with some $14 million in aid.

"Withdrawal of all Russian forces from Moldova by the end of 2002 will be a major undertaking involving the disposal or withdrawal of some 42,000 tons of munitions and tens of thousands of small arms. We must ensure the secure, safe disposal or removal of this ammunition and equipment. The United States is ready to support this effort with $14 million through the OSCE voluntary fund."

The OSCE conference took place under the shadow of renewed Israeli-Palestinian violence in the Middle East, triggered by a series of Palestinian suicide bombings over the weekend. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who was also in Bucharest, held meetings on the sidelines of the conference with Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Peres after the talks urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to show what he called "leadership" and stem Palestinian extremism.

Powell in turn urged both sides to "try to get back to a process that will lead to a cease-fire and to negotiations."

The Bucharest conference came amid efforts by the pan-continental security body to regain its international prestige and was organized at the end of Romania's one-year OSCE presidency.

Ironically, the conference was held in the sprawling palace that once belonged to the late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu -- a gargantuan architectural project that absorbed much of Romania's economic resources during the waning years of communism.

Twelve years after Ceausescu's demise, Romania still lags behind other former communist countries in the race for Euro-Atlantic integration.

But Foreign Minister Geoana said yesterday that Romania made the most out of its year at the helm of the regional security body and improved its international standing: "I think we managed to prove Romania's capacity as a responsible and effective international player and -- to an equal extent -- I think we managed to bring Romania's international reputation to a level consistent with our aspirations toward integration into the European Union and NATO."

Geoana's assessment echoed the opinion of the European Commission's recent report on Romania's progress toward EU integration, which said that Bucharest had demonstrated its capacity to assume international responsibilities.

However, it will now be up to Portugal -- which next year takes over the OSCE presidency -- to bring the organization closer to fulfilling its role as a provider of security, stability, and democracy across the continent.