Kazakhstan to Manage the OSCE in 2010

MADRID -- Kazakhstan won approval Friday to take over the chairmanship of Europe's main human rights and security watchdog in 2010 after accepting U.S. demands to pledge to protect the OSCE's election monitoring body.

"These are very important commitments by the government of Kazakhstan. We intend to see these commitments are implemented," U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said at a news conference at the end of a ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which agreed to Kazakhstan's chairmanship.

The United States had demanded that Kazakhstan promise to defend the election monitoring body, which has been fiercely criticized by Russia.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin, whose country has oil and gas needed by Europe, gave that promise Thursday. He also said his country would move to increase press freedom and make it easier for political parties to register following recent elections in which supporters of the president won every seat in the parliament.

The Kazakhstan decision immediately drew criticism from New York-based Human Rights Watch, which described Kazakhstan as a "classic soft authoritarian state."

It will be the first time a former eastern bloc country will hold the presidency, said Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who has chaired the OSCE during 2007.

The OSCE conference was overshadowed by the dispute between the United States and Russia, which wants to reform the organization's election monitoring body, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The ODIHR has pulled out of monitoring the State Duma elections.

"We will try to make the OSCE an organization of equal partners, so that no one is discriminated against in this organization," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose bid to reform the ODIHR was not accepted.

Russia's decision to suspend its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe also raised U.S. hackles.

But, despite rhetoric often reminiscent of the Cold War, the OSCE did manage to agree on the need to renew its mission of more than 1,000 officials in Kosovo. "I hope this can be approved before Dec. 10," said Moratinos, referring to the date on which mediators from Russia, the United States and the European Union report to the United Nations on the province, which aims to break away from Serbia. "But before the end of the year by all means," he said.

Spain will hand over the OSCE chair to Finland before it passes to Greece and then Kazakhstan.

Reuters, AP