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Europe

OSCE Can't Bridge Security Differences Over Russia

The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called a two-day summit "successful" even though a joint political declaration eluded delegates and tension between Russia and the West increased.

Russian troops ride atop armored vehicles and trucks near the village of Khurcha in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia

The EU and US criticized Russia's excessive force in Georgia while Russia slammed the OSCE

"We were close to getting a political declaration, probably closer than we have been for many years, but no cigar this time," said Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, whose country holds the OSCE's rotating chairmanship.

As outgoing chairman of the 56-nation grouping, Finland had hoped that ministers for the first time in six years would agree on a joint declaration.

Decisions in the OSCE hinge on unanimity, and previous meetings have failed to bridge differences to agree on such a document.

Stubb underlined the role of OSCE in conflict resolution, citing its part along with the European Union in brokering a ceasefire after the recent war between Russia and Georgia.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who January 1 takes over the chairmanship, said "the aftermath of the crisis" was a priority for Greece and she planned to visit the region soon.

Multiple countries urged the OSCE to extend the monitoring mission to Georgia and its breakaway regions. The mission is set to expire at the end of December.

Georgian Foreign Minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili told reporters on the sidelines that she hoped for an extension but declined to predict the outcome of pending talks in Moscow.

Russia criticizes OSCE for inaction in Georgia

Georgian soldiers sit atop a tank as it moves along a street in Gori, Georgia, just outside the breakaway province of South Ossetia

Russia said the OSCE didn't do enough to stop Georgia

As the talks leaned towards the Georgia conflict, Russia slammed the OSCE for failing to prevent the war, demanding an inquiry to determine why it did not act and insisting on the need for a new European security pact.

"It is clear that the OSCE has not met its main aim: to ensure safety for all," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Helsinki.

Lavrov said OSCE observers deployed in South Ossetia had warned their superiors of a Georgian attack in August but the information was not transmitted to all of the organization's member states. He also noted that Russia had for several years warned of arms shipments to Tbilisi.

The organization "did not react to the illegal use of force," he said.

"It's totally unacceptable. I expect an inquiry to be carried out and the results to be presented to us," Lavrov said.

In an interview Thursday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner admitted to reporters that OSCE observers had warned of a deterioration of the Georgian situation, and said the "early warning systems" had not functioned properly.

"It never works, because you always wake up too late, and afterwards someone always says that there were warnings that it would happen. Well, yes, but we didn't believe it," Kouchner said.

Lavrov's attack came after Russia had faced heavy western criticism on Thursday, the first day of the OSCE meeting.

Russia slammed by EU, US over excessive force

Russian soldiers ride atop an armored vehicle through a street in Tskhinvali, capital of Georgian breakaway enclave of South Ossetia

Russia is accused of reacting with excessive force

The European Union and the United States condemned what they called the excessive use of military force by Moscow in Georgia in August and its decision to recognize the independence of the Georgian separatist regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

They also called on Russian troops to allow ceasefire observers to enter these territories.

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried called on Russia to stop blocking international monitors from going into Georgia's separatist South Ossetia region to assess reports of human rights abuses.

The monitors have been unable to return to the Moscow-backed region since the war in August between Russia and Georgia, and human rights groups say that in their absence ethnic Georgians are being harassed by the separatists.

"There is, unfortunately, a silence and darkness with respect to the international monitors that has descended on South Ossetia," Fried told reporters. "The solution is hardly to keep monitors out of South Ossetia ... Russia has an obligation, since it controls this territory, to let in international observers."

Moscow calls for new European security pact

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Lavrov called for clear rules for European security

Lavrov responded to the criticism by calling for a summit to be held on a new European security pact to establish "clear game rules" for the continent amid what Lavrov said was a crisis of confidence.

"There is a desire to find an agreement on clear game rules, to gradually restore confidence (in Europe), the crisis of which is the root of all problems," he said. Lavrov also urged the OSCE to help avert a "humanitarian disaster" in South Ossetia.

Lavrov said the pact should "refute claims from some states who think they have an exclusive right to peacekeeping and security in the Euro-Atlantic zone," a veiled reference to the United States.

"There are those who want to preserve everything as it was in the 1990s. In other words, a group of countries that positions itself as the most advanced and civilized, determines and controls the direction of travel for the others," he said.

He added all European countries and international organizations should join the pact.

OSCE members split over need for security summit

The US and a number of European countries have already said a summit on reorganizing European security would be "premature."

"There is a general sense that there is a need for discussion of some of the problems in European security," Daniel Fried told journalists on Friday.

Czech soldiers hold the NATO flag in Prague

Many OSCE members said NATO does not need replacing

"But there was strong sense in the room that the current institutions NATO, the EU, and the OSCE itself have worked well and there is hardly a need to replace them."

In November, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was in favor of such a summit in 2009, but Kouchner on Thursday backtracked from that statement.

The foreign ministers of several former Soviet states -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- on Friday published a statement supporting the Russian proposal.

Several countries said the existing structures involving the EU, NATO and OSCE were sufficient. But they added there was need to refresh or strengthen those structures.

A possible meeting next year discussing the ideas was not ruled out by Bakoyannis, but a summit appeared premature, she said.

The OSCE -- the only major security organization that encompasses the United States, Russia and Europe -- last agreed on a joint declaration in 2002.

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