The U.N. conference had been envisioned as a constructive forum to develop an international plan to combat discrimination. In an effort to reach a compromise, the European Union, the Arab League and South Africa held a meeting that lasted until early Tuesday, said Olivier Alsteens, spokesman for Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, who represented the EU at the meeting. "We want a short, well-balanced text," Alsteens said. "Europe could not agree that the conference support only one part of the (Middle East) conflict."
South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was working to come up with compromise wording, Alsteens said. The three groups met Tuesday morning and planned to continue meeting during the day, Alsteens said. Essop Pahad, a South African cabinet minister, said he believed the negotiations would continue at least until Wednesday night and could go on until just before the conference ends Friday morning.
In a statement released in Durban on Monday evening, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had remained in Washington, denounced the draft declaration's "hateful language" and announced he was recalling the delegation. "I have taken this decision with regret because of the importance of the international fight against racism and the contribution that this conference could have made to it," the statement said.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said Tuesday the conference appeared to be getting back on track, with all references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict having been temporarily removed from the document while the South Africans formulate substitute language. She also told a news briefing that the departing U.S. delegation had called her from the airport to clarify that it had not completely pulled out of the conference and that Craig Kuehl, the U.S. consul-general in Durban, would remain as a delegate.
This is the third world conference on racism, but the first the United States and Israel had attended. Both countries boycotted the 1978 and 1983 conferences in part because of similar anti-Israel language. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the U.S. and Israeli withdrawal "unfortunate.'' "In these circumstances each country should be at the table to discuss,'' he said, during a visit to Rwanda. Human rights organizations also expressed disappointment with the U.S. decision. Jewish delegations at the conference announced Tuesday they were pulling out as well.
The European Union said it had no current plans to leave the conference, but if it did, it would be as a bloc, along with the EU's 13 candidate states, Alsteens said. Canada said it would stay for the time being, but would not accept the current wording of the document. Australia said it was "considering all options,'' according to delegate spokesman Bala Chettur.
The draft document recognized with "deep concern the increase of racist practices of Zionism,'' and said Zionism "is based on racial superiority.'' Zionism is the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state. Israel is the only country mentioned specifically in the document, which accuses the Jewish state of "practices of racial discrimination.''
Norway and Canada had attempted to mediate a compromise on the draft declaration. Palestinian Ambassador Salman el Herfi said the Arab delegations had been very reasonable, but the U.S. delegation had refused to compromise, and he accused the United States of pulling out because of its own refusal to face up to responsibility for slavery and the injustices done to Native Americans. Alan Baker, an Israeli delegate at the talks, said Norway had proposed "very general language'' that would call on all parties in the Middle East to end the violence and return to negotiations.
Participants have complained that the Middle East dispute has overshadowed other important issues. Outside the conference center Tuesday, chants of "Reparations Now'' mixed with Native American drumming and singing, as about 200 demonstrators from a wide range of groups tried to make their voices heard. Activists for indigenous groups in the Americas protested a paragraph in the declaration they say would deny them special rights in their home countries. African-American groups demanded the declaration call for reparations for the slave trade.