Mr. President, last week the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, held its annual Ministerial Meeting in Athens. As always, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly was strongly represented there. Today, in my capacity as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I would like to offer a few reflections on the outcome of the meeting, and what this might mean for the future of European security, in which the U.S. has a vital stake.
Each year, a different country serves as the OSCE’s “Chairman in Office.” This year, Greece was the Chairman-in-Office and this year’s Ministerial Council meeting subsequently took place in Athens. In recent years discord and paralysis have increasingly begun to overwhelm the cooperation and consensus that once characterized the OSCE. The Greeks thus began their chairmanship facing a difficult challenge.
At last year’s meeting in Helsinki under Finland’s able chairmanship, the Ministers decided that the OSCE should look for ways to overcome this gridlock and to give the organization a new impetus. Greece took this task to heart and launched the “Corfu Process” to do just that. This effort has already borne fruit. In Athens, the ministers resolved to continue to try to reaffirm, review, and reinvigorate security in the OSCE region by continuing this process.
The Ministers also agreed on decisions that addressed such fundamental and persistent problems as hate crimes, tolerance and nondiscrimination, nonproliferation, terrorism, and the “protracted conflict” in Nagorno-Karabakh. One of these decisions, on countering transnational threats, was sponsored by the U.S. and Russia, the first such joint effort in several years. I hope this is a positive portent for the future.
The Ministers were not able to agree on how to tackle some other equally important and pressing problems. These included the protracted conflicts in Georgia and Moldova, OSCE assistance to Afghanistan, and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Clearly, much work remains to be done in putting the OSCE fully back on track.
I would be remiss if I concluded my remarks without commending the Greek chairmanship for its untiring and ultimately successful efforts during the course of this year. The chairmanship rekindled the trust and confidence among the participating states that had steadily eroded over the past decade. Greece has clearly set the stage for a brighter and more productive future for the organization, and my colleagues on the Helsinki Commission, and I would like to congratulate the Greek chairmanship on this significant accomplishment.
We would also like to wish Kazakhstan, the first Central Asian nation to hold this office, every success in its historic chairmanship in 2010 and to offer them our full support. Indeed, in our view the Kazakh chairmanship is already off to a promising start, for in Athens, at the initiative of the Kazakhs, the Ministers decided to hold a high-level conference on tolerance next year. This proved to be a timely decision, coming as it did just as Switzerland voted to ban the construction of Muslim minarets, and the president of the Swiss Christian Peoples Party called for a ban on Muslim and Jewish cemeteries. These actions reminded us that not even countries that have played a leading role in establishing international human rights standards are immune from the tendencies to discriminate against immigrants and minorities and to place limits on the free expression of religious beliefs.
It is very important for the OSCE to combat these troublesome trends. It is also important that all the organization’s participating states reaffirm, and commit themselves to upholding, the rights of all religious communities to create places of worship and to rest in line with their own traditions. I very much hope the OSCE’s conference on tolerance next year will advance this effort.
Finally, let me say that we look forward with great interest to the forthcoming discussions of Kazakhstan’s proposal to hold a meeting of heads of state and government during its chairmanship. Should it happen, this would be the first such “summit” under OSCE auspices, something that was previously a regular occurrence. In Athens, in acceding to this proposal, the United States expressed the view that it is open to considering such a meeting if, but only if, such a summit can produce results of substance. I think this is the correct approach, and it is one I fully support.