ASTANA, Kazakhstan – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on a European security organization Wednesday to play a bigger role in helping stabilize Afghanistan and to do more to strengthen the voice of human rights groups worldwide.
In the aftermath of the leak of huge numbers of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables by the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website, Clinton also urged a greater commitment to press freedom, but she made no overt reference to the embarrassing episode.
"It is not enough for a constitution to guarantee freedom of the press if, in reality, journalists are put under intense pressure and even assaulted," she told the opening session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's first summit meeting in 11 years.
She made no explicit mention of WikiLeaks, nor did it come up in other officials' speeches on the first day of the summit.
On Afghanistan, Clinton said the OSCE can play an important role to improve border security, counter illicit trafficking, boost legitimate trade, promote economic development and help develop national institutions.
She urged a recommitment to what she called "comprehensive security" — not just protection against armed attack but also protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The summit is being held over two days in Astana, the gleaming new Kazakh capital rising from the sparsely populated northern steppes.
The OSCE was born in the 1970s to nurture rapprochement between Cold War enemies. But the organization has in recent years struggled to define a clear purpose — an anxiety reflected in the speeches of many leaders at the Astana summit.
In the opening address, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lamented shortcomings among the group's members in enforcing the rule of law and protecting the rights of minorities.
"The OSCE unfortunately sometimes sees violations of its commitments in its own area," he told delegates.
Those words will have been uncomfortable fare for summit host nation Kazakhstan, whose government has been subjected to frequent OSCE admonitions for failing to live up to commitments on improving media freedoms and democratic standards.
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy enjoined the OSCE to energize its role as a mediating influence in times of conflict.
"The OSCE's capability in early warning ... as well as in crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation needs to be strengthened," Van Rompuy said.
Failure to achieve any breakthrough in Europe's various territorial stalemates, from Moldova's separatist Trans-Dniester region to the perennial tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, has served as an embarrassing reminder of the OSCE's weakness to effect significant change.
"By the very use of words like 'unresolved' or 'protracted,' we risk putting these conflicts into a special category, beyond hope as it were," Van Rompuy said.
Meanwhile, in a thinly veiled broadside at Russia, Clinton chided efforts to obstruct the placement of an OSCE mission in Georgia, whose own territorial integrity has been undermined by Moscow's diplomatic and financial support for the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"It is regrettable that a participating state has proposed to host a mission, and the OSCE has not been allowed to respond," Clinton said.
Russia fought a brief but intense war with Georgia over South Ossetia in 2008.