ASTANA (Reuters) - The United States called on Europe's main security watchdog on Wednesday to prove its mettle by giving more support to the war in Afghanistan and working to resolve simmering conflicts across the former Soviet Union.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the first summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 11 years that the 56-member group must become more decisive to stay relevant.
"Regional crises and transnational dangers threaten our people. Democracies are under pressure, and protracted conflicts remain dangerously unresolved," Clinton told the summit in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, which chairs the OSCE this year.
"Instability in Afghanistan is dangerous for Central Asia and for the OSCE region as a whole," she said, adding the war against the Taliban would be a test of the OSCE's resolve.
Clinton noted that disagreements between OSCE members during the war in August 2008 between Russia and Georgia had prevented a swift response, something she said needed to be fixed.
The criticism underlines doubts in Washington that a body grouping Western democracies with former Soviet republics has the teeth or the will to prevent conflicts and ensure adherence to even basic human rights.
The head of the British delegation, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, said: "You have to be upfront about these conflicts and the OSCE in some cases can, and should, play a prominent role in trying to promote solutions, promote peace."
Kazakhstan became this year the first ex-Soviet republic to chair the OSCE. The summit, the first since 1999, is a matter of immense personal pride for President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has run the Central Asian nation for more than 20 years.
Amid tight security in Kazakhstan's showpiece capital, Nazarbayev urged 38 visiting heads of state and other senior officials to revive the role of the OSCE in tackling international terrorism, drug trafficking and economic crises.
"This organization has really started losing its potential. We should put it straight," said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
But enthusiasm for the summit has been soured by criticism from rights groups and the West of Kazakhstan's record on democracy and human rights during its chairmanship.
Clinton used the trip to Astana to clinch a deal with Belarus on eliminating stocks of highly enriched uranium and welcomed planned talks with Iran on its nuclear program.
But the focus was the threat from the war in Afghanistan and a host of simmering conflicts across the former Soviet Union.
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan said they were committed to seeking a final settlement of their dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The OSCE pledged support to both countries and called for steps to strengthen a ceasefire.
Georgia's separatist regions and Moldova's rebel region of Transdniestria were also on the agenda. Separatist leaders in Transdniestria appealed to the OSCE summit not to make any decisions about the region's future without consulting them.
The unusual statement appeared to reflect fears by the separatist leadership that Medvedev, whose country is seen as the main guarantor of Transdniestria's security, might make concessions in talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In Central Asia, Kazakhstan has watched with unease as radical Islam and drug trafficking have become more prevalent in the wider region. "The acute political situation in Kyrgyzstan could become the catalyst for new conflicts," Nazarbayev said.
Tajik troops are fighting Islamist insurgents, while Kyrgyzstan suffered its worst bloodshed in post-Soviet history when more than 400 people were killed in ethnic clashes in June, only two months after its president was overthrown.
Uzbekistan criticized the OSCE for failing to take prompt action during the clashes, which forced more than 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks to flee over the border from Kyrgyzstan.
"Regrettably, the OSCE and its structures played practically no positive role whatsoever in preventing and ending these bloody events," Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov said.