- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Negotiations on a United Nations document on the world's children have dragged into a third week as U.S., European and Latin American delegates remain deadlocked on abortion rights language.

One session went as late as 3 a.m. for negotiators hammering out "A World Fit for Children," a 36-page document that will set U.N. policy on treatment of minors around the world.

"This conference has turned into trench warfare," said Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a watchdog group monitoring the sessions.

Most of the wording including a potentially troubling section on children's rights in occupied territories has been hammered out in the past two weeks. But the stickler is several lines in paragraph 35, which contain the words "reproductive health services."

"Services," in U.N. parlance, means abortion, and Bush administration negotiators are not allowing it.

"This is a document about children and we don't need to be talking about abortion in a conference about children," said William Steiger, special assistant for international affairs to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

"A number of the delegates have been disingenuous in not admitting they are talking about abortion," he said.

At one point, U.S. negotiators said they would allow the "reproductive health services" language into the document if it is accompanied by a footnote that the phrase cannot refer to abortion rights. Their offer was rejected by European and Latin American delegates.

"The EU [European Union] and Rio [Latin American] delegates are not negotiating in good faith," Mr. Ruse said yesterday. "They'll spend an entire morning negotiating one paragraph, and then they'll reject it.

"The longer they drag this on, the greater the likelihood they will tire people out and get what they want."

Fiona Salter of International Planned Parenthood, one of the lobbying groups seeking to influence the document, concedes "services" do include abortion, "but it's so much broader than that. It also includes education and information. We cannot ignore the fact that adolescent girls suffer from the effects of unsafe abortion."

Thomas Jacobson of Focus on the Family's public policy division and an observer at the negotiations, guesses delegates will hammer out other portions of the document, then return to paragraph 35 on Thursday.

"I simply hope the U.S. delegation, the Holy See and other countries will hold strong," he said. "Even Syria and Libya, countries we ordinarily don't have much to do with, are agreeing with us in not including language that has to do with abortion."

The document is supposed to be ready for approval during a U.N. Special Session on Children Sept. 19-21, just over a week away. Seventy-five heads of state are expected to attend.

"If there is not a document finished, there will be lots of embarrassment," Mr. Ruse said.

But foot-dragging on delicate matters is "standard" for U.N. documents, Mr. Steiger said. "The HIV/AIDS document was open until the second day of the [U.N. AIDS] conference in June. The Beijing women's conference document [in 1995] was open until the wee hours of the first day of the conference."

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