European countries must cut through a tangle of conflicting policies to build a single voice on security, Greece, which is chairing an international security organization, said on Sunday.
Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis held out tentative hope that weekend ministerial talks on the western Greek resort island of Corfu could eventually lead to a joint approach to challenges ranging from Afghanistan to cyber crime.
"We may be at the beginning of what may be a long and arduous process," Bakoyannis told the informal meeting's plenary session on the western Greek island of Corfu.
She said establishing solidarity among the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Greece is the current chairman, "is easier said than done, when every state is concerned above all with its own problems."
"But if we do not conjure up this solidarity, one day we may all suffer as a result," she added.
The foreign ministers also discussed a Russian proposal put forward by President Dmitry Medvedev last year for a new European security structure, including a treaty encompassing all of Europe and North America. The West's response has been wary amid concern that Moscow wants to neutralize NATO and other existing groups. "My feeling is that no one wants anything brand new," Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said. "Almost everyone thinks that the existing security organizations in Europe are working quite well," he said, referring to NATO, the European Union and the OSCE. Stubb said organizations should be strengthened, but "I think the message is that we don't need new structures." EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he hoped the debate could produce something that the next OSCE ministerial meeting in December can finalize.
"It will take time," he warned.
Speaking at the end of the meeting, Bakoyannis said the foreign ministers had "concurred that it is time to consider that much work remains to be done and that the goal of (European security) remains a target and not a reality."
One of the OSCE's toughest challenges this year has been to extend the mandate of its 16-year mission in Georgia, which expired in December. OSCE staff will pull out by Tuesday. Russia first blocked the extension late last year because other OSCE members refused to recognize Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent. The OSCE operates by consensus and opposition by one of its members can keep matters from moving forward.
US Deputy Secretary of States James Steinberg deplored the impasse.
"We regret that (the OSCE mission in Georgia) has come to an end and that we could not find the basis to move this forward," he said after talks with Bakoyannis on the sidelines of the meeting. "We hope our Russian colleagues will see that this is an important opportunity for us to work together and to deal with this and to not allow this conflict to be continued indefinitely." Solana said the EU was working with the OSCE on a new proposal, although it was unclear whether it would satisfy the Russians. "But I can tell you there will be a meeting soon," he said. "And we are committed to have another meeting after the summer." Held under heavy security, the OSCE meeting started with a dinner on Saturday night.
It was preceded by the first NATO-Russia foreign ministers' meeting since the alliance broke off ties after Russia's war in Georgia last summer, which resulted in an agreement to resume suspended military ties.
Following the OSCE talks, EU foreign ministers will meet later on Sunday on Corfu to discuss relations with Iran after the post-electoral crackdown on protesters there.