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OSCE Ministers Discuss Security

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are scheduled to examine a Russian proposal for a "new security architecture" for the continent.

The June 28 meeting on the Greek island of Corfu was preceded by the highest-level talks between NATO and Russia since relations plummeted to a post-Cold War low following over last year's war in Georgia.

Opening the talks, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, whose country currently holds the OSCE chairmanship, emphasized that the organization was an "irreplaceable" forum that has not served the region up to its real potential.

"The challenges we are still facing remind us that much work remains undone and that the vision of a united continent, built on universal principles and indivisible security -- as expressed in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 1990 Charter of -- is not yet a reality for all of Europe," Karamanlis said.

"We have gone a long way but we have not yet reached our destination."

The OSCE, whose mission is to deal with a wide range of challenges, including arms control, the fight against crime, human rights, and election monitoring, comprises 56 states from Europe, Central Asia, and North America.

OSCE spokesman Martin Nesirky said the meeting is an attempt to look at the security challenges that the region is facing right now and what the future may hold for it. He said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's proposals last year were "the catalyst for this whole process that's now really beginning to gather momentum."

Georgia On Their Minds

Western-Russian grievances fueled by the Georgia conflict are also expected to be on the agenda.

The Kremlin has refused to renew the mandate of the OSCE's mission in Georgia, which expired in December. A separate mandate for the military observers in South Ossetia, which Moscow recognizes as independent, expires on June 30.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis has said it would be "very difficult" to achieve a breakthrough before then. The OSCE operates by consensus and opposition by one of its members can prevent a decision.

On June 27, NATO and Russia agreed to resume formal military cooperation during talks in Corfu between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his NATO counterparts.

However, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that "fundamental differences" of opinion remain between the alliance and Moscow over Georgia.

Lavrov said Russia's recognition of Georgia's two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after a five-day war between Russia and Georgia last August is "irreversible."

Lavrov's comments sparked an immediate response came Washington.

"I think there was a very clear message that the members of the alliance all feel very strongly that the issue of Georgia's territorial integrity should be respected, that we don't intend to recognize the purported attempt to set up separate states within the territory of Georgia," said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.

Unfreezing Ties

Moscow froze relations with NATO after the alliance expressed dismay about the Russia-Georgia war.

Ties began improving after U.S. President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, and NATO ambassadors met with Russia's envoy to the NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve cooperation between the former Cold War foes. Formal military relations, however, remained suspended.

Russia cooperated with individual NATO nations such as the United States, France, and Germany by allowing them to use its rail network to resupply international forces in Afghanistan. Russia's Navy also has worked with the warships of a number of NATO members during their joint anti-piracy patrols off the Somali coast.

The Corfu talks came two weeks ahead of Obama's visit to Moscow, during which the two sides are expected to reach an agreement to fully and formally restart military cooperation.

The OSCE talks, which started on the night of June 27 with a working dinner, will be followed later by an informal meeting between European Union ministers to discuss the post-election violence in Iran.

A recent meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations in Italy called for the crisis to be settled soon through democratic dialogue and peaceful means.

More than 20 people were killed in protests over Iran's June 12 election result, the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Compiled from agency reports