Russia, U.S. Trade Accusations at OSCE

APLavrov making a point to Spanish Foreign Minister Migueal Angel Moratinos.
MADRID -- The United States and Russia accused each other of trying to manipulate an international security organization as it opened an annual meeting Thursday in Spain.

The 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe began its council of ministers meeting after the body said it would not monitor State Duma elections Sunday, citing interference from Moscow.

A top U.S. official bluntly accused Russia of working to weaken the OSCE and its election-monitoring mission.

"We fear that the fundamental understanding of how to achieve democratic peace in Europe has been under assault from within this organization," U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the U.S. position as "not giving an inch."

"It's not constructive, of course. This says that our warnings that the OSCE has become a tool used for political purposes by one group of nations against another group of nations, these warnings have proven true," Lavrov said in remarks carried on national television.

The OSCE, based in Vienna, Austria, has said Moscow was dragging its feet in issuing visas to OSCE observers and creating other obstacles, including limiting the number of monitors to 70, many fewer than in previous Russian elections.

President Vladimir Putin has blamed the United States for the OSCE's decision not to monitor the Duma elections -- a claim Burns flatly rejected.

Putin last weekend said the OSCE's decision not to send monitors was intended as a way to cast doubt on the credibility of the voting.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called for unity among member nations, who were represented by about 45 foreign ministers and other delegates at the meeting.

"The OSCE has united us in the struggle to construct a Europe at peace with itself," Zapatero said.

He highlighted what he called the need for a new consensus on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which he called "the cornerstone of peace."

Russia plans to suspend its compliance with the treaty next month to protest a U.S. proposal to station anti-missile installations in Eastern Europe.

Spanish and U.S. officials speaking on the sidelines of the meeting said they were optimistic that advances would be made in the dispute with Russia over the treaty but that a major agreement was unlikely in Madrid.

The OSCE meeting, which wraps up Spain's yearlong presidency of the body, was also scheduled to debate whether to extend the organization's mission in Kosovo, which expires at the end of the year, and a possible future OSCE mission in Afghanistan.

The OSCE, made up of countries from Europe, Central Asia and North America, deals primarily with preventing conflicts, observing elections, managing crises and rehabilitating post-conflict areas. It operates by consensus, and its decisions are politically influential but not legally binding.