A two-day ministerial meeting in Madrid of members of Europe's main security watchdog began on a note of contention over its decision to not to send election observers for Russia's upcoming parliamentary vote. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris on the meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Opening speeches at the ministers' meeting in Madrid stressed the importance of the 56-member body in guaranteeing stability and democracy in Europe, along the lines of remarks by Foreign Minister Luis Amado of Portugal, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union presidency.
"In our view the OSCE continues to play a decisive role in guaranteeing security, and peace and stability in close cooperation with other international actors - in particular, the European Union, the Council of Europe ad the United Nations."
Diplomatic remarks aside, the meeting is expected to address serious disagreements, starting with the OSCE's decision not to send observers to monitor Russia's parliamentary elections Sunday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by news agencies as criticizing the decision and questioning the OECD's future. Lavrov said the 34-year-old institution needed to change, that it needs a new charter and new rules.
Earlier this month, the OSCE's election arm announced it would not monitor Russian elections, citing Moscow's obstruction in granting enough visas for its election observers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is running in the parliamentary race, accused the United States of influencing the OSCE's decision - a charge the Bush administration denies. As an OSCE member, Russia is technically required to have the body observe its elections.
Other key issues are also on the agenda in Madrid. The European Union and the United States want the body to renew its mandate in Kosovo, regardless of the territory's future status. The mandate expires next year.
The OSCE ministers are also addressing Russia's decision to stop implementing the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty next month. The pact limits the deployment of heavy weapons on the continent. The decision is in response to Washington's decision to base missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe, among other issues.