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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Warns About Limits on Observers

ReutersStrohal holding an OSCE brochure as he takes a question at a news conference with Burns in Vienna on Thursday.
VIENNA -- A senior U.S. official warned on Thursday that Moscow would face fierce opposition in Europe's biggest security and rights body over proposed restrictions on election observers and said he hoped a compromise could be found.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns described as "quite negative" Moscow's proposal to reduce vote monitoring by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and ban public reports right after elections.

The decision will be reviewed by OSCE foreign ministers at a Madrid gathering on Nov. 29 and 30, but "we will certainly not support it," Burns said, speaking to reporters after talks with Christian Strohal, chief of the OSCE's election watchdog.

"Probably the great majority of countries would not support it at the Madrid conference," he said.

After weeks of delay, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights received a Russian invitation Wednesday that said up to 70 of its observers would be allowed in for the State Duma elections on Dec. 2. This was less than a quarter of the number admitted in 2003 Duma elections, and the observers this time are only being offered "short-term observation." The OSCE criticized the 2003 vote as flawed, citing a lack of equal access to media for opposition parties.

Strohal said the new curbs were "unprecedented" and could prevent a meaningful judgment on whether the vote is free and fair.

He also said it was uncertain if at this late date observers could prepare enough to do a professional job in the elections, but the matter was being examined.

Asked whether his agency might reject the invitation on grounds that the terms were crippling, which has happened only rarely in a decade of monitoring, he said, "I hope not." The agency's observers normally enter a country three months before a vote.

Burns said he hoped the agency could still negotiate a more effective mission.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the new cuts did not violate Russia's OSCE obligations and that it would not accept "attempts from abroad to try to influence" its elections.

Moscow's proposal calls for the agency's missions in seven former Soviet republics to be "no more than 50 persons," and no more than 10 percent of observers in one mission should come from a single country.

The proposal also says the publication of the agency's reports should be authorized only by the OSCE's ministerial council. This could cause indefinite delay because of consensual decision making.