- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

NEW YORK The U.N. high commissioner for human rights yesterday pleaded for more time to negotiate acceptable language for an upcoming conference on racism.

"This set of issues will require careful handling right down to the conference itself," Mary Robinson told delegates in Geneva. "We must all be realistic in recognizing this and give ourselves space and time to negotiate the difficult issues involved, up to and including the conference."

Delegates in Geneva this week are attempting to remove obstacles, including language condemning Israel, that have threatened to disrupt the World Conference Against Racism in South Africa later this month.

Mrs. Robinson spoke to reporters hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed at least 18 persons inside a Jerusalem pizzeria yesterday.

Her comments were aimed squarely at Washington, which has threatened to boycott the event if anti-Israeli language is not expunged from the draft documents for the conference, which opens in Durban, South Africa, on Aug. 31.

Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat and a member of the U.S. delegation in Geneva, told reporters that unless references to Zionism were removed from the conference documents, it would be inappropriate for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to attend.

"That would dignify the lynching of Israel," Mr. Lantos said.

Today is the closing day of the final preconference meeting, and hopes are dimming that all sides will be able to hammer out acceptable language on a number of issues, including an apology for slavery, reparations for colonialism, protection of refugees, equality for all castes, colors and religions, and similar prickly subjects.

American and many Western European diplomats have said they oppose singling out any nation for contemporary human rights abuses.

The conference declaration and program of action a voluntary blueprint for nations and regions to reduce bigotry and intolerance are both filled with language that offends some parties, groups or regions.

But it is the passages dealing with Zionism that have captured most of the attention.

The General Assembly in 1991 renounced its "Zionism equals racism" resolution, which had stood for 16 years.

Since then, Israeli-U.N. relations seemed to ebb and flow in step with the situation in the Middle East.

In the 10 months since Israeli-Palestinian relations have violently deteriorated, the Arab states have sought to punish or embarrass Israel at the United Nations.

Supported by members of the Non-Aligned Movement, they have called meetings of the Security Council to demand an international observer force for the occupied territories.

And the Arab group has insisted that anti-Israel language be included in U.N. conferences devoted to cities, children's rights, women's rights, the spread of small arms and now racism.

Palestinian diplomat Nabil Ramlawi said yesterday that references to Palestinian suffering and "Israeli racist practices" must remain in the text.

Mrs. Robinson yesterday urged governments not to give up, but to try to understand the generations of ingrained frustration and emotion.

She asked delegates to try to balance "the historical wounds of anti-Semitism and of the Holocaust, on the one hand, and the accumulated wounds of displacement and military occupation on the other."

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