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Europe

OSCE Meets to Discuss Caucasus Crisis and the Region's Future

Foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are spending two days in Finland. Their mission -- to find out what went wrong in this summer's brief war between Russia and Georgia.

A Russian soldier during the Caucasus conflict

OSCE monitors want to understand what actually happened in the Causasus

Germany's Frank Walter Steinmeier is among the 50 foreign ministers who have arrived in Helsinki for what could be an awkward meeting.

The military conflict between Russia and Georgia this summer over the breakaway Caucasus regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was just the sort of confrontation the OSCE was designed to prevent.

Ministers will be discussing how to improve future cooperation in the Caucasus, although Russia, which has recognized the provinces' independence, and the West, which considers them part of Georgia, completely disagree on the issue.

On Wednesday, December 3, after meeting in Brussels, NATO foreign ministers agreed to use the OSCE as a forum for restarting a direct dialogue between the alliance and Moscow.

So organizers hope that the talks will be productive -- despite this summer's armed conflict.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

It's been a busy week for Steinmeier

"It was quite a dramatic development," OSCE spokesman Martin Nesirky told Reuters news agency. "For that reason it clearly colors the conversations that will go on, but it doesn't necessarily poison the atmosphere."

But the likelihood that the 56-member organization will arrive at a common declaration appears remote.

"The odds are against us ... the crisis in Georgia sets the tone, so we shouldn't have high expectations," Aleksi Harkonen, the head of the Finnish OSCE Chairmanship Task Force, told Reuters.

And adding to the complications, one of the OSCE's major players won't be in attendance.

Question of observers

Local residents wait for humanitarian aid in the city of Gori

The conflict was a humanitarian disaster and a black eye for the OSCE

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is skipping the meeting and going to India instead since Washington is practically unable to negotiate any major agreements until President-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20.

One issue those in attendance might be able to settle is return of OSCE monitors to South Ossetia.

The observers left the region when hostilities broke out in August, but the OSCE would like to see them allowed back.

Finnish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman Alexander Stubb

OSCE Chairman Stubb hopes some deals can be reached

"There must be OSCE observers, we must be able to have a complete, realistic picture of what's really happening," Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni told Reuters. "If goodwill is expressed by all, we'll find a solution."

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb added that talks to that end would continue next week in Moscow.

"Hopefully we can solve it before the end of the year when the mandate [for Finland's leadership of the OSCE] runs out," Stubb said. "But I won't give any odds on that."

The ministers also plan to talks over calls by Russia for a new European security pact. France has indicated interest in the proposal, but the US has voiced opposition.

And with Washington staying away from the conference, little progress toward such a sweeping agreement is likely to happen.

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