Dec 2 2008

Foreign ministers from the 56-nation Organisation for Security and
Cooperation meet on Thursday and Friday in Helsinki.

Europe's main security and human rights body will this week discuss
problems lingering since Russia's brief war with Georgia and hopes
its military monitors can soon return to breakaway South Ossetia.
Foreign ministers from the 56-nation Organisation for Security and
Cooperation meet on 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 organisation -- 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 colours 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 say it would be hard to
secure firm 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 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 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.


Russia launched a counter-attack against Georgia in August after
Tbilisi's forces tried to retake Moscow-backed South Ossetia, which
has declared independence from Georgia.

OSCE military monitors left South Ossetia during the war but Greek
Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni told Reuters that Athens would do
all it could to secure their return.

"There must be OSCE observers, 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," she said.

Russia criticised 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 told Reuters that talks on
the impasse would continue in Moscow on Dec. 8.

"Hopefully we can solve it before the end of the year when the mandate
(for Finland's leadership of the OSCE) runs out," Stubb said. But he
added: "I won't give any odds on that."

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

Nagorno-Karabakh's mostly ethnic Armenian population broke away from
Azerbaijan in a war in the early 1990s. It now runs its own affairs,
with support from Armenia, and a ceasefire brokered by Russia has
held there since 1994.

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

President Dmitry Medvedev has said Washington has forfeited its place
at the heart of the world order and that the war with Georgia showed
the security mechanism in Europe, based around NATO and the United
States, needed to be replaced with a new European security pact. He
wants a conference held to set it up.