Diplomatic Disputes

Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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Although it did boost Bulgaria's share of the international limelight, the 12th Ministerial Council of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), held in Sofia this week, failed to produce any ground-breaking diplomatic results. Indeed, after two days of discussions - and amidst much acrimony between Russia and the West - the foreign ministers of the 55-state organisation were no nearer to adopting a common stance on Ukraine. This must have been particularly disappointing for Bulgarian diplomats, who have traditionally enjoyed good diplomatic relations with both parties.

It was also a set back for outgoing OSCE Chairman-in-Office Solomon Passy - the foreign minister of Bulgaria - who worked hard to try and make the event a real success.

"We knew from the very beginning that chances were slim for reaching a consensus on the final document," Passy told the press after the conference.

Yet he did also reiterate that he thought the OSCE was a vital instrument for ensuring security and stability in the region and an example and inspiration for other parts of the world.

"I appeal to all participating states to make full use of the OSCE as a key forum for political dialogue and co-operative security," he told journalists on December 7.

Passy, who is seeing out Bulgaria's 2004 tenure at the helm of the OSCE, said that the next chairmanship - Slovenia - would continue efforts to bring the stances of all member countries closer.

While refusing to reveal which countries disagreed with what, Passy admitted there were colliding views between Russia and the West on the OSCE's overall role, as well as on the situation in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

Any diplomatic reticence was, however, later dropped, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov openly criticised the OSCE for having an "unbalanced" policy and "double standards".

"The organisation is not only ceasing to be a forum that unites states", Lavrov said, "but, on the contrary, it has started working for their disunity."

This provoked a sharp denial by outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose trip to Sofia represented one of his last appearances on the foreign stage before he hands over to Condoleezza Rice.

"I categorically disagree," Powell told journalists. "All OSCE participating states signed up to the proposition that fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of legitimate concern to us all."

Adding more fuel to the fire, however, the Russia delegation then dismissed Powell's calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

"The agreements with these countries are of bilateral character and don't imply [Russian] liabilities... to third countries," came the Russian delegation's official rebuttal.

Meanwhile, the EU issued a statement strongly deploring the fact "that it has not been possible to adopt a joint declaration at this Ministerial Council on the situation in Ukraine. This is even more deplorable given the fact that the text of such a declaration was supported by the government of Ukraine."

While the conference was marred by disagreement, delegates were nevertheless able to hail consensus on a few things. The meeting managed to reach decisions on issues including: improving OSCE border security; combating the use of the internet for terrorist purposes; further implementing the OSCE document on stockpiles of conventional ammunition; combating corruption; promoting tolerance and non-discrimination; drawing attention to the special needs of the child victims of human trafficking; promoting protection and assistance; establishing a panel of eminent persons; strengthening the effectiveness of the OSCE; and drawing up an action plan for the promotion of gender equality.

Delegates were also upbeat about the OSCE's role in the upcoming elections in Iraq, where officials said the organisation hoped to leverage the experience it gained in Afghanistan.

Separately, the upshot for Bulgarian foreign-policy makers was a string of post-conference meetings between Bulgarian officials and foreign dignitaries, which will help to strengthen Bulgaria's bilateral relationships.

Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg met Powell and Lavrov on December 7.
Meanwhile, Passy met with Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose country currently holds the EU term presidency. Importantly for Bulgaria, the topic of the EU accession was covered at length.

According to official sources, Bot praised Bulgaria's OSCE chairmanship highly. He also stressed the European Council's aim to declare the political conclusion of negotiations with Bulgaria and to set up a date for signing Bulgaria's EU accession treaty as soon as possible next year.

Importantly, Bot added that the EU had the political will for Bulgaria to sign the accession treaty in spring 2005, while stating that the progress of Bulgaria and Romania would be evaluated individually and Romania's lagging performance would not cause a delay to Bulgaria's accession. This has been a pivotal point in Bulgaria's EU negotiations, in which Sofia has sought several times to be formally decoupled from Bucharest.

In the end, the OSCE conference in Sofia showed some of the fruits of the hard labour put in by Bulgarian diplomats on a number of fronts in recent years. It may have required some patience too from the capital's citizens, who had to put up with several days of traffic jams to extend their hospitality to their foreign guests. Most, though, seemed to think it was worth it.

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