Will Obama come to OSCE Summit in Astana?
By Hal Foster
The diplomatic charm offensive that Kanat Saudabayev has been waging for months has paid off.
Kazakhstan’s foreign minister has landed the OSCE summit that President Nursultan Nazarbayev has long called for.
Saudabayev reported at the wrap-up of a two-day OSCE foreign ministers conference that all 56 countries in the organization had agreed to the first summit in 11 years. The last one was in Istanbul in 1999.
Kazakhstan, the chair of the OSCE this year, plans to hold the summit in its capital, Astana. Central Asia Newswire quoted Saudabayev as saying the tentative dates are October 29 and 30.
Saudabayev, who as chairman in office is the OSCE’s top individual official, has led an energetic diplomatic campaign in recent months to convince OSCE members to agree to a summit. He has also taken his case to news organizations in OSCE countries, including the United States.
The fact that all members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe committed to a summit over the weekend was crucial. The organization works on consensus, and if even one member had objected to a summit, the gathering would not have taken place.
A key question now is whether Barack Obama will attend. If he does, he will be the first American president to visit Central Asia.
Obama was noncommittal about a summit when Nazarbayev raised the issue in April on the sidelines of a U.S.-sponsored international nonproliferation conference, U.S. news organizations reported.
After the two leaders’ talks, political commentators said the Obama administration appeared unenthusiastic about a summit. The implication was the Americans would say no.
A senior Western diplomat at the Almaty conference said shortly before Saudabayev’s summit announcement that the United States would agree to a summit if the rest of the OSCE wanted one and it had a “substantive agenda.”
Whether Obama would attend would depend not only on the agenda but also on the president’s schedule, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition that his name not be used.
The diplomat noted that American presidents usually prefer summits that are the culmination of an important effort – such as talks that end in an arms-control deal. That approach gives them a major accomplishment to show fr om a summit.
The Astana summit, the diplomat said, will not be the culmination of an effort but rather just the start of addressing issues that are on the agenda.
At a speech opening Saturday’s second day of the weekend OSCE gathering, Nazarbayev listed four summit agenda possibilities:
-- Reforming the OSCE to increase its ability to fulfill its original mission of ensuring members’ security.
-- Creating a new global economic model aimed at preventing a recurrence of the meltdown that occurred in 2007 and 2008.
-- Creating an OSCE mechanism for promoting ethnic and religious tolerance.
-- Coming up with a plan to help Afghanistan end its 30 years of war and rebuild.
After Nazarbayev’s speech, the foreign ministers at the conference offered a number of other agenda possibilities. They included:
-- Helping Kyrgyzstan rebuild from the clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks that erupted in June.
-- Trying to help Armenia and Azerbaijan settle their dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
-- Trying to help Moldova and Russia settle their dispute over the separatist movement in Moldova’s ethnic-Russian Transnistria region.
-- Trying to help Georgia and Russia settle their dispute over the ethnic-Russian Abkhazia and South Ossetia enclaves.
-- Introducing a new arms-control regime in the OSCE, including steps to ensure nuclear nonproliferation.
-- Combating terrorism.
-- Trying to stop cross-border trafficking in drugs and human beings.
-- Trying to stop organized crime gangs that operate across borders.
Nazarbayev’s contention that the OSCE needs reform is rooted in his assessment that it has strayed from its original mission of security.
The OSCE was born out of the Cold War in the early 1970s as a counterweight to the Soviet Uni on. Since the break-up of the U.S.S.R. in the early 1990s, it has added other missions, including humanitarian functions such as preventing human trafficking.
Those who contend that the OSCE has failed to pay enough attention to its security role in the past two decades point out that other threats have replaced the Cold War-era danger of a war between the Soviet Union and the West. The new threats include conflicts over religious and ethnic differences, and terrorism.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey reflected the concern that Kazakhstan and other OSCE members feel about the organization’s ability to carry out its security mission by saying that “the OSCE is largely incapable of responding to new crises.”
Other foreign ministers at the Almaty conference said one security-related reform the OSCE should make is developing a better early-warning system for detecting potential crises – so they can be defused before they erupt into conflict.
Another reform would be developing a rapid-response capability so the OSCE can lim it the scope of crises once they do break out.
Still another would be developing a better conflict-resolution mechanism to settle a crisis that has exploded and calmed but continues smoldering.
Kazakhstan began discussing the importance of reinvigorating the OSCE’s security mission even before it became OSCE chair on January 1. Those who have followed its statements have a sense that it would like to see a more practical mechanism for deploying OSCE peacekeepers, although neither Saudabayev nor other Foreign Ministry officials has said that publicly.
The United Nations has a practical deployment mechanism – approval by the 15-member Security Council rather than the 192-nation General Assembly.
Like every policy the OSCE enacts, peacekeeping deployments require all 56 members saying yes.
Even if all of the other OSCE members wanted peacekeepers deployed to Moldova’s Transnistria region, for example, either of the countries involved in the dispute over the enclave – Moldova or Russia – could derail the deployment by saying no.
“Given the consensus nature of our organization, the possibilities for that (peacekeeping deployments) are not great,” according to the Western diplomat at the Almaty conference.
One solution would be establishing a smaller body within the OSCE that could make deployment decisions without full member approval. But that decision itself would take unanimity, and a number of foreign ministers at the Almaty gathering said they like the consensus requirement just fine.
One was Russia, whose foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said the OSCE’s response to the outbreak of inter-ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan shows the organization can respond to crises “on the basis of consensus.”
Lavrov was referring to an over-all response to the Kyrgyzstan crisis, not a security response.
Partly because it is the OSCE chair and partly because Kyrgyzstan is its neighbor, Kazakhstan is spearheading an effort to rebuild conflict-torn southern Kyrgyzstan.
The only security step the OSCE has taken to help Kyrgyzstan is moving toward deploying police advisers there.
It will take several weeks for the 52 advisers whom President Roza Otunbayeva requested to show up in Kyrgyzstan, according to Herbert Salber, head of the OSCE’s Conflict Prevention Center.
The full membership must agree to the deployment, and then it will take time to sel ect and deploy the advisers, who will need to speak Russian, Salber said.
The advisers will not be performing peacekeeping duties. They will be training Kyrgyz police in ways to prevent further conflict between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks.
Although the OSCE police will not be peacekeepers, Salber said he believes their presence will help defuse tensions because residents will see them as an outside force that is objective and trying to help.
Uzbeks have said ethnic-Kyrgyz police were part of the problem during the conflict, failing to go to the aid of Uzbeks who were under attack or even attacking Uzbeks themselves.
“I agree with you” that the police deployment to Kyrgyzstan is late, Salber answered a journalist who asked whether police should have been dispatched sooner – and in greater numbers.
The OSCE works on the basis of consensus, he said. “This is a complex diplomatic process” that is a “fact of life” at the OSCE, he said.
The only other security measure that an outside player has taken to help Kyrgyzstan was Nazarbayev’s decision to send special forces from Kazakhstan to the southern city of Jalalabad to whisk ousted President Kurbanbek Bakiyev out of the country by plane. That rescue mission headed off a possible civil war between north and south Kyrgyzstan, some observers have said. Bakiyev is now living in Belarus.
Kazakhstan acted as an individual government and not in its role as OSCE member or chair in the rescue effort. The mission needed to be accomplished quickly and, like everything else that comes before the OSCE, would have required time-consuming unanimity.
At one point Otunbayeva asked Russia to send troops to maintain order in Kyrgyzstan, but the Russians declined.
With Kazakhstan as OSCE chair, it’s a safe bet that reinvigorating the organization’s security mission will be at the top of the summit agenda.
And with a lot of the foreign ministers at the Almaty conference calling for Afghanistan to be on the agenda, it seems certain to be an agenda item as well.
Only time will tell whether the rest of the agenda is tantalizing enough to lure Obama to Astana, according to Central Asia Newswire.