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Politics : War

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To: Carolyn who started this subject8/29/2001 1:30:37 AM
From: Mani1   of 23266
Powell Will Boycott U.N. Racism Conference

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) will not attend the U.N. conference on racism opening in South Africa this week because of language critical of Israel, the State Department said on Monday.

``It is clear to us now that the secretary (Powell) will not go to this conference. The secretary will not attend this conference. The exact nature and level of our representation, if any, is not clear,'' State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing.

Boucher said all along, the United States had stated its opposition to several elements of the conference, including ''offensive'' language about Israel that singles it out as a ''racist'' occupying power.

It was possible the United States would boycott the conference altogether and not send a delegation at all, Boucher said.

``We'll have to look at the situation, about how this might evolve or change based on the efforts that various people are making, and ... decide on the nature and level of our participation, if any,'' he said.

Boucher said Powell had spoken on several occasions with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news - web sites) over the weekend to tell him of his decision about the conference, set to start on Friday.

Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, welcomed Powell's decision to boycott the meeting, which he said had been ``hijacked'' by some participants with the specific aim of bashing Israel.

``There's a need to discuss racism but not in a conference which already has been hijacked,'' Foxman said in an interview on the PBS program ``Newshour With Jim Lehrer.'' Powell's presence would give the conference ``a certain status and prestige'' it does not deserve, Foxman said.

The United States repeatedly threatened to skip the U.N. conference unless Arab states drop demands that the conference texts single out Israel.

President Bush (news - web sites) said on Friday the United States would not go to the conference in Durban at all if the participants ''picked on'' or denigrated Israel.


Boucher said by attending the conference at Cabinet level, the United States would have put out the wrong signal that it agreed with this kind of language describing Israel.

``The level tends to imply a certain association that we may not -- certainly don't want with this kind of language,'' he said.

Boucher said the United States had spent years trying to ''eradicate some of these ideas'' about Israel from U.N. documents and now was not the time to revive them.

The U.N. General Assembly equated Zionism -- the modern movement promoting the return of Jews to the biblical land of Israel -- with racism in resolutions adopted annually from 1975 to 1991. They were dropped after the landmark 1991 Madrid Middle East peace conference.

The Bush administration had also objected to language in conference documents supporting reparations for slavery but Boucher said the key issue was Israel and not language on reparations.

Also appearing on PBS, Hugh Price, National Urban League president, said while he agrees that a discussion of Zionism has no place at the Durban meeting, to skip it because of that leaves unaddressed all the other issues that do belong on the agenda.

``The United States has more to teach the rest of the world on how to manage diversity and create opportunity than any other society on Earth and we could use our presence there to try to do that,'' Price said. ``I think the presence of Secretary Powell would have accomplished that, so we're deeply disappointed that he's not going.''

Rep. Tom Lantos (news - bio - voting record), a California Democrat and ranking minority member on the House International Relations Committee, applauded Powell's decision not to go to Durban.

``By allowing a conference against racism to become a conference against Israel, the United Nations (news - web sites) -- urged by the Arab states -- has missed an historic opportunity to take a positive step toward eradicating the scourge of racism.

``As a world leader in this fight, the United States must not dignify this anti-Israel lynching with its high-level participation.'' he said in a statement.
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