Bulgaria, which takes over the leadership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in January, says it will steer the organization towards greater international cooperation in combating terrorism and safeguarding national borders.

Bulgaria Foreign Minister Solomon Passy assumes the chair of the 55-nation OSCE on January 1, taking over from his Dutch counterpart, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who will be the new head of NATO.

OSCE spokesman Richard Murphy says the chair rotates on an annual basis.

"It is a voluntary system. It is not like the European Union where it rotates according to a pre-arranged plan," he said. "Basically you put your hand up and say 'I will do it' and Bulgaria put its hand up a few years ago and said we'd like to do in 2004 and everybody else agreed."

He says the chair can set the agenda as the Dutch did in 2003 on combating drug trafficking, people-smuggling, and gun-running in central Asia.

As head of the OSCE, Mr. Passy, a 47-year-old former dissident, is expected to put cooperation in the suppression of international terrorism and the improvement in the security of travel documents and border controls at the top of his list.

A staunch friend of the United States, Mr. Passy was one of the first to advocate NATO membership for Bulgaria. Diplomats close to the OSCE say Bulgaria is also interested in much greater cooperation with the OSCE's newest partner, Afghanistan. They say the OSCE could promote education and police training, and assist in the preparation of the first elections in Afghanistan next year.

Mr. Passy will outline his agenda for the coming year to OSCE members in mid-January in Vienna.

The OSCE grew out of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the 1970s, a forum for dialogue between East and West, and includes the United States and Canada.