- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

NEW YORK — Arab states appear to be reducing their demands that anti-Zionist language be peppered throughout the draft declaration of the upcoming U.N. racism conference, potentially removing one barrier to American participation.
However, U.S. interest groups, notably the Black Congressional Caucus and the Urban League, have urged the Bush administration to drop its threat to not attend the conference if the draft continues to call for developed Western nations to pay reparations for the slavery era.
Diplomats from around the world are meeting in Geneva this week and next to attempt to streamline the nearly 60-page declaration, which is meant to serve as a blueprint for reducing racism and xenophobia around the world.
The 22-member Arab Group had inserted language into the draft that compares Zionism to apartheid and casts the killing of 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany as just one of many "holocausts." The language is even more condemnatory than that in the "Zionism equals racism" resolution that stood for 16 years in the General Assembly.
However, diplomats participating in the Geneva conference said that they sense a willingness to compromise on the language.
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Yaakov Levy, said yesterday that after a closed-door meeting of delegates chaired by South African Ambassador Sipho George Nene, only Syria held out in favor of the language.
"The chairman expressed the sense of all participants but one that there was no room at Durban and in the resolutions for any kind of equation between Zionism and racism," Mr. Levy told the Associated Press.
A Syrian ambassador confirmed his country's position to reporters in Geneva.
Time is running out for delegates to reach a consensus text before the U.N. World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia and Related Intolerance opens on Aug. 31 in Durban, South Africa.
The United States has sent a sizable delegation to the Palais du Nations in Geneva to see that references to Zionism, as well as to reparations for colonialism and the slave trade, are eliminated from the working draft.
"We are not threatening to boycott," Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN Wednesday. "The answer is, let's fix this so that the conference will serve its intended purpose, and the United States wants to be there."
The racism conference has generated more interest in the United States than most U.N. conferences do, in part because of the intense feelings brought about by any discussion of racism.
The Congressional Black Caucus has demanded that President Bush go to Durban, or at least send Mr. Powell.
The National Urban League and other groups have joined in, saying that Washington has an obligation to set things right at home and abroad.
"There are dark corners in every country, and we are seeing manifestations of modern racism in all the countries of the world in different ways," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who predicts "a very emotional conference."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also spoken to leaders about removing the references to Zionism and compensation for slavery, which largely occurred in the 16th through 18th centuries.
The 53-nation African Group has demanded that the document include an explicit apology from former colonial governments.


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