OSCE foreign ministers were struggling Tuesday to agree a final declaration at a conference in Vienna, with Russia still blocking accord on the north Caucasus, diplomats said.
Delegations negotiated all night, but by Tuesday morning sticking points still remained, notably on Chechnya and Georgia, and last-minute talks were underway hours before the declaration was due to be unveiled.
It was possible that there could be no final declaration, or that the declaration would include no comment on key north Caucasus issues, one diplomat said.
"There is not yet a final declaration," he told AFP on condition of anonymity as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting resumed for the second day of talks.
Another said: "It might be that there is no final declaration.. There is one chapter still under negotiation which is the one on regional issues and precisely north Caucasus."
Russia came under fierce attack on the first day Monday of the meeting of foreign ministers of the 55-member OSCE, an umbrella grouping which includes all European countries plus the United States and Canada.
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described as "tragic" Moscow's failure to fulfil commitments made at an OSCE summit in Istanbul last November over ending its clampdown in Chechnya.
"We can only be fully effective if our members uphold the principles and commitments to which they have agreed," she said in a pointed reference.
The final declaration was due to be presented by the OSCE's three-member leadership at 12:30 PM (1130 GMT) Tuesday. One diplomat expressed hope that 11th hour talks could break the deadlock.
"Very often you get closure when people realize they've got to make a decision," he said.
The OSCE works by consensus, meaning that often its joint statements use seriously watered-down language which can be agreed on by all delegations.
Another diplomat said Chechnya appeared less of a problem than the question of a Russian withdrawal of forces from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
One solution if no accord could be reached would be for the final declaration, expected to be about 10 pages long, to omit any reference to the disputed subject, but the OSCE chairperson-in-office to make a separate statement, making clear that no agreement was reached.
The Russians signed a document in Istanbul reaffirming the urgency of a political settlement in Chechnya and allowing the OSCE to redeploy its Assistance Group of experts in the troubled Caucasus republic.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Monday he was "disappointed" by the continuing levels of Russian forces in Chechnya and the so-called southern flank of the former Soviet Union.
But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov blasted back, denouncing those who wanted to impose their view on others as "magisterial teachers" and saying Moscow would take lessons from nobody.
"I am convinced that it is time to overcome the current negative trend in the way of the OSCE functions," said Ivanov, who had left Vienna by Tuesday, leaving a deputy to continue the last-minute negotiations -- VIENNA (AFP)
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