Crisis in Caucasus to be the hot topic at Toronto summit
Crisis in Caucasus to be the hot topic at Toronto summit Representatives from 47 nations to attend four-day meeting on security and co-operation
Sep 17, 2008 04:30 AM Olivia Ward
Foreign Affairs Reporter
Parliamentarians from 47 countries are gathering in Toronto today to open a four-day meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which will focus on trade, security and migration.
But ground zero of the meeting will be the turbulent Caucasus region, crossroads for energy and geo-strategic issues – as well as some of the most bitter wars of recent years.
It will feature a special session on the crisis in Georgia, where Russia and the small former Soviet republic fought over the breakaway region of South Ossetia last month.
On Friday, Swedish OSCE envoy Goran Lennmarker will table the findings of his recent trip to Georgia and representatives from Georgia and Russia will debate their versions of events.
The assembly is the parliamentary wing of the OSCE, Europe's main body for early warning, conflict prevention and crisis management in the region.
It has some 320 members from 55 parliaments from Albania to the United States – including 10 from Canada – who are part of an effort to "meet the challenges of democracy" in the 21st century.
The meeting will touch on vital issues in the Middle East, as well as the U.S. economic upheaval, modern slavery and international financial transparency.
It will set the agenda for an annual meeting next July in Lithuania.
"It's the first time they will be in Canada," said Senator Jerry Grafstein, vice-president of the assembly, who has worked with the organization for 15 years.
"Toronto is a perfect place for the meeting, because it's a great model of integration."
The assembly may be a forum for defusing some of the tensions between the United States and Russia, on increasingly bad terms since the Georgia war, with the U.S. taking Georgia's part and Russia condemning Washington as an instigator of the conflict.
"We can't let another Cold War happen," Grafstein said. "Russia must be included in the conversation, and there has to be reasoned debate."
Speakers at the four-day events include former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, president of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group; Portuguese parliamentarian Joao Soares, the assembly's president; Senator Consiglio Di Nino, head of Canada's delegation to the assembly; and Kazakhstan senate chair Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
The meeting will be held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.