- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

DURBAN, South Africa — Desperate to save the U.N. racism conference, the European Union and South Africa joined forces yesterday to try resolving the language dispute that prompted a walkout by the United States and Israel.
References to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were temporarily removed from a draft declaration while the South Africans formulated substitute language, said Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
She insisted yesterday that the dispute has not derailed the conference against racism.
"There is a good sense that we are back on course," said Mrs. Robinson, the organizer.
The South Africans, the European Union and the Arab League met throughout the day yesterday and were expected to continue talks until as late as Friday, the last day of the conference.
In the original text, Israel is the only nation singled out for condemnation. Among the sticking points were references to the "racist practice of Zionism," and description of the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state as an ideology "based on racial superiority."
The United States and Israel — which boycotted racism conferences in 1978 and 1983 had warned they would pull out if language in the proposed final declaration singled out Israel for criticism. Yesterday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer explained the U.S. decision to pull out.
"This has been a lost opportunity for America, and for people from around the world who are concerned about racism," he said.
"It is an unfortunate throwback to the old days where these conferences worked in a counterproductive fashion. It's unfortunate that people in this conference brought it to the point where America and Israel had no choice but to leave."
The Europeans sought swift drafting of a brief text that voiced support for both sides in the Mideast conflict, said Olivier Alsteens, spokesman for Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, the EU representative.
He said the 15-member European Union said it had no current plans to leave the conference. But if it did, it would do so as a bloc, along with the union's 13 candidate states, Mr. Alsteens said.
The European Union said it was committed to making progress on the Mideast section of the declaration, but if no headway is made, countries disagreeing with the language could reject particular sections while accepting the rest.
"We are not starting the negotiations with an eye on their failure. Europe really wants success even if we think that it will be very, very difficult," Mr. Alsteens said.
Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, said a final declaration would be "meaningless" if there are no specific references to Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.
Nearly a year of Mideast fighting has left peace efforts in a shambles.
Mr. Moussa denied American accounts that it was Arab inflexibility that broke down efforts to find a new compromise text in initial attempts led by Norway.
"No, no, no. I believe the inflexibility was shown by the withdrawal [of the United States and Israel] 31/2 days before the end of the conference," he said.
South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is writing the compromise draft, said that discussions were on track, and that she did not think other countries would leave.
"I'm not going to be pushed into ultimatums and all that because it is not conducive to negotiations," Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma said.
In a statement released in Durban on Monday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who had stayed in Washington, denounced "hateful language" in the draft declaration and announced he was recalling the delegation.
Jewish delegations at the conference announced yesterday they were pulling out as well.
And a coalition of Jewish groups also was among nongovernmental organizations that refused to sign a final statement from NGOs.
Anti-Israel language in the declaration of the NGO conference on racism included references to genocide and ethnic cleansing by the Jewish state.
According to an Eastern European bloc of nongovernmental organizations, 57 of 166 NGOs rejected the text.
Mrs. Robinson told a news conference yesterday that because of the text's "hurtful" language, this was the first time she was not recommending the NGO document as a model to the coinciding U.N. meeting.


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