New OSCE Chief Frets About Russia

VIENNA -- Russia's freeze of a Cold War arms control pact threatens European security and it is getting harder to find common ground on security issues, the new head of Europe's main democracy and rights watchdog said Thursday.

Finland's foreign minister addressed the assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to outline 2008 priorities after a year of tensions over arms control, election monitoring and human rights abuses.

Conflict prevention and crisis management will be the priorities of Finland's OSCE chairmanship, Ilkka Kanerva said.

Key issues were Russia's suspension of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, Kosovo's thrust for independence from Serbia and frozen conflicts that occasionally flare between former Soviet republics.

Kanerva said OSCE envoys had begun discussions with both sides on how to restore the CFE pact. He also urged member countries not to pose obstacles to OSCE election monitoring.

He said Russia was among countries that needed to accept such monitoring as a "normal" part of democracy and time was running out for Moscow to invite an OSCE observers mission to prepare for its March presidential election.

The OSCE's election monitoring arm cancelled a mission for the recent State Duma elections, complaining of obstruction.