US and Russia face
A dispute between the United States and Russia over election monitoring threatens to overshadow a meeting of Europe's main human rights and security watchdog starting on Thursday.
There were still hopes the ministerial meeting of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to take place in Madrid would reach a deal on assisting Afghanistan in policing its borders.
And the United States was also trying for an agreement to keep Russia within the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty which eased the transition to a new balance of forces after the end of the Cold War.
But the United States said it would not budge in its opposition to Russian attempts to reform the OSCE's electoral monitoring arm, ODIHR.
"ODIHR's independence needs to be respected," U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told a news conference in Madrid on Wednesday. The United States would not concede "a millimeter" in its defense, he said.
The spat has been further embittered by ODIHR's decision not to monitor Russia's parliamentary elections on December 2, which are expected to provide evidence of President Vladimir Putin's continuing grip on power.
The United States says Moscow imposed impossible conditions on ODIHR. But Putin has snapped back against foreigners who he says are "poking their snotty noses" into its affairs.
While meetings between U.S. and Russian officials are set to go ahead, Burns indicated the dispute could rebound on the Russian-backed application by Kazakhstan to chair the OSCE in 2009.