- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

DURBAN, South Africa — A threat by European nations yesterday to walk out of a U.N. conference on racism in a dispute over Arab-backed language condemning Israel pushed diplomats into an all-night quest for a face-saving compromise.
A restricted group of Europeans, Africans and Arabs met all day yesterday at the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, only to adjourn at 8 p.m. with no agreement.
"We should know by late tonight whether there is a clear indication whether we can reach consensus," said Koen Vervaeke, spokesman for the Belgian foreign ministry.
The day began with France threatening to walk out over language in the conference's draft declaration that singles out Israel as a racist nation a move that would have crippled the event following the abrupt pullout by the United States and Israel earlier in the week.
"If the link between Zionism and racism is maintained, the issue of our departure along with the Europeans will come up immediately," a spokesman quoted Prime Minister Lionel Jospin as saying.
After a day of negotiations among representatives from Belgium, Norway, South Africa, Namibia and the Palestinian Authority, the impasse remained unresolved.
The 15 members of the European Union then headed into an all-night session with Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, to discuss new compromise language crafted by South Africa.
As the host of the $11 million conference, South Africa has taken a leading role in the negotiations.
If South Africa's proposed four-page draft on the Middle East is tweaked and accepted by the five delegations, it would replace nearly two dozen paragraphs in the existing conference documents that prompted the U.S. and Israeli walkouts.
"The Europeans find it to be an acceptable basis for a negotiation," Mr. Vervaeke said. "But I have to admit, it was quite difficult today."
The group of four nations plus the Palestinians spent the day in a private room at a hotel near the convention center, insulated from the tumult of the main event.
Meanwhile, diplomats from 163 nations at the conference toiled past midnight yesterday in a halting and often tedious effort to agree on a political declaration and program of action.
The conference is scheduled to end tomorrow, but the United Nations has booked interpretation services through Saturday.
Exhausted negotiators said they are making progress, but not as much as they need to if they are to end on schedule.
"Even without the Middle East and the legacy of slavery, we are not getting through this text as quickly as we should be," said a delegate from one Central European nation.
Brazil sought to facilitate a closed-door discussion on the history of slavery and colonialism, atonement and the question of reparations, another set of deeply contentious themes at the conference.


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