OSCE to Tackle Georgia Problems

HELSINKI -- Europe's main security and human rights body will this week discuss problems lingering since Russia's brief war with Georgia and hopes that its military monitors can soon return to breakaway South Ossetia.

Foreign ministers from the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation will meet Thursday and Friday in Helsinki, the city where its forerunner, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, was founded in 1975. But some of the spirit of 1975 may be missing following the OSCE's failure in August to stop Moscow and Tbilisi -- which are members of the organization -- from going to war over South Ossetia.

"It was quite a dramatic development," OSCE spokesman Martin Nesirky said of the five-day war. "For that reason, it clearly colors the conversations that will go on, but it doesn't necessarily poison the atmosphere."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not attending the meeting of the OSCE, which groups countries from Europe, North America and Central Asia. She will be in India. Even if Rice attended, Finnish officials said it would be hard to secure U.S. commitments on any issues because President-elect Barack Obama does not take office until Jan. 20.

Finland, which hands the OSCE's annual leadership to Greece next month, wants an agreement on a joint political declaration at the meeting -- something last achieved in 2002 in Portugal. This could be hard because of the impact of the Georgia-Russia war. "The odds are against us. ... We have the crisis in Georgia, this sets the tone, so we shouldn't have high expectations," Aleksi Harkonen, head of the Finnish OSCE Chairmanship Task Force, said of the prospects of agreeing on a joint declaration.

He said it may be better to settle for trying to boost talks between Russia and Georgia in Geneva on easing mutual tensions.

OSCE military monitors left South Ossetia during the war, but Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni said in an interview that Athens would do all it could to secure their return.

"There must be OSCE observers," she said. "We must be able to have a complete, realistic picture of what's really happening. If goodwill is expressed by all, we'll find a solution.

Russia criticized the OSCE for pulling out its observers but has said the eight monitors who were there before the war are entitled to return. The OSCE says their return has been blocked.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said talks on the impasse would continue in Moscow on Dec. 8.

He said the OSCE ministers would discuss the dispute between Azerbaijan with Armenia over the mountainous Caucasus enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The ministers will also discuss Russia's call for a new European security pact. France, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, has said it is ready to discuss such a pact, but the United States has greeted the proposal with reluctance.