OSCE close to ending deadlock on candidates for top jobs

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe appeared poised Tuesday to end months of crippling deadlock, with participants at a foreign ministers' meeting saying member nations agree in principle on who should fill key leadership positions.

A forum born of Cold War attempts to ease disputes through compromise, the OSCE must reach decisions by consensus. But regional and international rivalries have prevented agreement on the Ukraine crisis and older conflicts elsewhere. The vacancies at the top have contributed to the sense that the organization is in crisis.

The OSCE, which seeks to ensure peace, stability and democracy across the continent, has had no secretary general since the mandate of Italy's Lamberto Zannier ended June 30. Other senior vacancies are for the head of human rights, the representative on freedom of the media and the person overseeing minority rights.

In post-meeting comments, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who is acting chair of the organization, said he is "very optimistic that we will come up with a solution." He offered no details.

A participant who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to report on the closed meeting was more upbeat, saying ministers and their representatives had tentatively agreed on candidates for the vacant positions. A formal announcement is expected early next week, he said.

Despite Kurz's formal leadership role, the major player at the meeting was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Lavrov came to the meeting with his country refusing to sign off on candidates. Russia's Interfax news agency cited Lavrov complaining that the choice of candidates was skewed toward the West, but reported him saying that Moscow would not stand in the way of consensus.

Kurz emphasized Moscow's oversized role in Europe before the meeting. He said Lavrov's presence would "enable the talks and contacts which are necessary to make progress" on filling the OSCE vacancies.

"We have to realize that peace on our continent will only be with and not against Russia," he said.

In his opening speech, Kurz focused on the need for common strategies to fight terrorism and extremism. Because all countries are threatened, he said, all OSCE nations — European and some central Asian nations, as well as the U.S. and Canada — must "pull in the same direction."

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Philipp Jenne contributed to this story.