Powell decides not to attend UN racism conference
WASHINGTON (AP) – Ending months of deliberation, Secretary of State Colin Powell has decided not to attend the U.N. conference on racism because of Arab-backed ”offensive language” accusing Israel of racist policies against Palestinians, the State Department said Monday.
Spokesman Richard Boucher said no decision has been made on whether the United States will send a delegation to the conference or boycott it altogether. The eight-day conference convenes Friday in Durban, South Africa.
While negotiations continue over the wording of a conference document to be approved by delegates, Boucher said the administration could wait no longer in announcing whether Powell would attend.
Shortly before Boucher spoke, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson noted the formulation ”Zionism equals racism” had been deleted from conference documents. But similar language still exists in the draft documents, including a reference to ”the Zionist movement, which is based on racial superiority.”
Boucher said he did not have up-to-the minute information on the negotiations over the documents. He added that the United States wants to work with others who are trying to rectify the situation.
Speaking in Johannesburg, Robinson said she was encouraged by the constructive attitudes of delegates attempting to reach a compromise.
But, she said, it would take ”the participation of all countries at the highest level possible” to demonstrate determination to fight racism.
Boucher said the administration is disturbed by the focus that many countries want to place on Israel.
”It’s the only country that seems to be singled out,” he said.
He added that Powell’s attendance was not deemed to be imperative because, while many countries plan to be represented by their head of state or foreign minister, many others will send lower level delegations.
Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., praised Powell’s decision. As a world leader in the fight against racism, ”the United States must not dignify this anti-Israel lynching with its high-level participation,” said Lantos, a member of the House International Relations Committee.
The decision also was praised by the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League.
Glen A. Tobias, ADL national chairman, and Abraham H. Foxman, its national director, said the decision sends a clear message that ”the United States will not legitimize the attempts to resurrect unfounded anti-Israel and anti-Jewish canards” at the U.N. conference.
But Gerald LeMelle, a top official of Amnesty International USA, said Powell’s decision not to go was very disappointing.
”There has been no serious thought as to the role the United States could play,” LeMelle said. ”Who is going to start leading us away from racial strife in Rwanda, Burundi, Kosovo, Cincinnati?
”Race was at the core of all of these issues. Who is going to show leadership? It’s not going to be the Chinese or the Russians. It has to be the U.S. They don’t seem to be seizing the moment.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is flying to Durban Tuesday to join other U.S. civil rights activists at the conference, said in a telephone interview that Powell’s decision not to attend the conference represents ”a huge step backwards toward isolationism.”
”At a time when we should be showing leadership in having a multiracial, multicultural society, we are choosing isolation,” he said, adding that sending a low-level delegation to the conference would be ”a global insult.”
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