S. African, EU officials seek compromise at racism parley

Wednesday, September 5, 2001

DURBAN, South Africa -- Desperate to save the U.N. racism conference, the European Union and South Africa joined forces Tuesday 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 Tuesday that the dispute had not derailed the World Conference Against Racism.

"There is a good sense that we are back on course," said Robinson, who organized the gathering.

A working group of South Africans and Belgians -- representing the European Union -- and Norwegian, Namibian and Palestinian delegates had begun considering the new language drafted by South Africa, a Belgian spokesman said late Tuesday. The group planned to work through the night, and hoped to have a compromise ready Wednesday.

"We considered this draft as an acceptable basis for the negotiations," said Koen Vervaeke, a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel. He did not provide details.

Olivier Alsteens, another Belgian spokesman, said the EU wanted results from the talks within 24 hours.

"After 24 hours we will evaluate if there is an opportunity for agreement," Alsteens said. "If the negotiations are not finished at that time and we see that there is an opportunity for agreement we will go further."

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 a description of the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state as an ideology "based on racial superiority."

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