- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2001

NEW YORK — The United States remained undecided yesterday on whether to attend the U.N. conference on racism beginning Friday in South Africa.
Even if there is a last-minute decision to go, U.S. officials yesterday made it clear that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell would not be there.
The United States has been adamantly opposed to proposed language in conference documents attacking Israel as a "racist" state, and to demands by African nations for an apology and reparations for centuries of slavery.
"It is clear to us now that the secretary will not go to this conference," spokesman Richard Boucher said at the daily State Department briefing yesterday. "The exact nature and level of our representation, if any, is not clear."
Mr. Boucher said the United States all along has stated its opposition to several elements of the draft conference resolution, including "offensive" language about Israel.
"We'll have to look at the situation, about how this might evolve or change based on the efforts that various people are making, and … decide on the nature and level of our participation, if any," he said.
The United States did not attend two previous racism conferences, in 1978 and 1983, also objecting to language that equated Zionism with racism.
But the Bush administration has been under pressure by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, human rights groups and some foreign governments to send a high-ranking representative to the conference, which opens Friday in Durban, South Africa.
Last week, thousands of South African Muslims demonstrated in front of the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town, demanding that Washington stop trying to dictate the agenda of the global conference.
More than 160 nations are expected to attend the eight-day conference, which has a sweeping mandate to address "the eliminiation of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance."
Thousands of nongovernmental organizations and media also are scheduled to attend the conclave.
The draft declaration and program of action — nonbinding documents that express political will and a blueprint for voluntary action are far from complete.
Nearly every page of both drafts contains contested text that either will be rewritten or dropped completely by the conference's scheduled conclusion Sept. 7.
However, both documents contain repeated references to Israel as a racist state and brand its settlements on Palestinian land as a form of apartheid and a "crime against humanity." Israel is the only nation mentioned by name.
The language on Israel, advocated by a group of two dozen Islamic nations, also diminishes the Holocaust, to the outrage of Jewish groups around the world.
The Israeli government yesterday still was threatening to boycott the conference.
"At this stage, we cannot go to Durban. That is our inclination," said Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior, who would be leading any delegation.
"It is a legitimate thing to criticize the state of Israel, the government of Israel," he told reporters in Jerusalem yesterday.
"It is not legitimate … when the world society takes one country and singles this one country out. Durban is an attempt to upgrade hatred against the Jews."
Washington also has been trying to find compromise language dealing with the aftermath of slavery.
That debate has remained a more nuanced but persistent source of conflict, dividing developed and developing nations.
African nations have sponsored language calling the slave trade a crime against humanity and have demanded unspecified reparations for its victims.
However, critics say it is impossible to assess which nations and groups bore the most responsibility for the enslavement.


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