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18-11-1999 Speech at the OSCE Summit, Istanbul


It is an honour as Taoiseach/Prime Minister of Ireland to address this OSCE Summit. I wish to begin by paying a warm tribute to the Government of Turkey for the generous and efficient manner in which it has hosted this meeting. I also wish to acknowledge the clear and decisive direction to our work provided by Norway as Chairman-in-Office.

Recently we were all horrified by the devastation and the loss of life which occurred as a result of the earthquakes in this area. Tragedy transcends national boundaries or other divisions. We all feel the suffering of the people of Turkey, and I believe that the international response to the crisis is helping to bring us all closer together.

And yet, Mr Chairman, in the history of Europe in the century that is now ending, the greatest suffering, the greatest loss of life, has resulted not from natural calamities but from mankind's own short-sightedness and folly. What brings us here together is our shared conviction, enshrined first in the Helsinki Final Act and developed later in the Charter of Paris and other documents, that our common security must be based on respect for shared values and cooperation.

It is particularly appropriate, therefore, that, on the eve of the millennium, we should meet in this great city which, throughout the centuries, has served as a meeting place and a focal point for the dissemination of inspiration and new ideas.

In signing the Charter on Security, we renew our commitment to the existing OSCE principles and we undertake a series of important new measures. We will adopt a Platform for Co-operative Security in recognition that the risks and challenges we face cannot be met by any one State or organisation. The Platform aims to strengthen and enhance the mutually reinforcing cooperation necessary between different institutions. Cooperation must be on a basis of equality and in the spirit of partnership.

We look forward to the detailed arrangements for cooperation which are embodied in the Platform being put into practice.

I also welcome the inclusion in the Charter of proposals for greater civilian involvement in OSCE Missions. In situations of conflict prevention and crisis management, there is a clear need for a flexible capacity to provide civilian experts to assist in multinational operations when the rapid deployment of the civilian component can often be a critical factor.

Amongst the key partners of the OSCE is the Council of Europe. On 4 November this year, Ireland succeeded to the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. Under our Chairmanship programme, Ireland is committed to intensifying the Council's contribution to the development of the role and work of the OSCE.

The Council of Europe and the OSCE share common principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Although they have different mandates, membership and working methods, their roles are mutually reinforcing.

The OSCE and the Council of Europe are both reliant on the commitment of their respective member States - and on the collective political will of their membership - to ensure respect for their values and standards. Monitoring the honouring of commitments is an important task for both Organisations, and an area where they must work closely together. In adopting a coherent and joint approach, the two Organisations can better ensure respect by States for fundamental values and freedoms.

In Kosovo, two weeks ago, I saw at first hand the practical benefits that can result when a range of institutions work together in the cause of stability and security. I was privileged to receive a briefing from our Irish troops who are serving as part of KFOR, and to meet General Reinhardt the KFOR Commander, the Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN and representatives of all four pillars of UNMIK, including the OSCE Mission. All my interlocutors mentioned the crucial importance of providing adequate resources for immediate needs in Kosovo.

I visited the homes and met with the victims of Serb violence in Kosovo. I was also able to meet with the Head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo. He emphasised the need for full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Without this there would be no security for all the people in Kosovo. The Bishop was able to expound in great detail the situation of the Serbian community. As a result of intimidation, some 90% of the Serbian community in Kosovo have been forced to leave their homes and more than 150,000 of them had been forced to seek refuge in Serbia, where conditions for them are very difficult.

When a spiral of violence gets out of control, the restoration of peace and justice, and the safeguarding of human rights pose daunting problems. The use of external force as a means of preventing the escalation of intercommunal strife clearly carries its own risks. No use of force can, in itself, lead to a process of reconciliation and healing - that process is infinitely more difficult to achieve, and yet it is the only sure foundation on which real peace and security can be based.

There are many lessons to be learned from the experience of Kosovo, both for us individually and also for the multinational bodies which worked together to try to prevent the crisis and which are now working together to try to bring it to an end. One lesson is that no one organisation - the United Nations, the OSCE, the European Union or NATO - was any more successful than any other in terms of conflict prevention. We need to examine carefully these weaknesses and see how we can do better in future.

A second lesson is the overriding need to strengthen cooperation at a wider level so that the effects of a crisis, such as that in Kosovo, do not have broader regional destabilising consequences. That challenge is now being addressed in the framework of the Stability Pact, and I welcome very much the contribution that the OSCE is making in this regard.

Kosovo is not, unfortunately, the only flash point in the OSCE area. In Georgia, Moldova and Nagorno-Karabakh, while cease-fires are holding, the underlying issues remain unresolved. Unfortunately, in Chechnya, military conflict is ongoing, with the appalling consequences that this has for the vulnerable population.

In my own country, we have been doing everything we can to secure a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. We are now at a critical stage in the process. The steps that have been taken this week are very encouraging and are a testament to the determination of the parties to achieve a positive outcome.

There is a prospect of great gain and benefit for all of the people of Ireland and of Britain. We have the opportunity to bring lasting peace and stability This is a prize beyond measure and the opportunity must be grasped. The parties committed to the Good Friday Agreement have shown convincing, positive leadership and deserve the support of everyone at this crucial time.

I hope that, the next time an Irish Prime Minister has the opportunity to address an OSCE Summit, even more significant progress can be reported. Mr Chairman, thank you.