U.S. wants thorny issues out of racism meet
By Sridhar Krishnaswami
WASHINGTON, JULY 27. The Bush administration has warned that the United States will not be in Durban, South Africa, for the International Conference on Racism if contentious issues are not sorted out, The Washington Post says, quoting senior administration officials. The contentious issues relate to equating Zionism with racism and reparations for slavery and colonialism. According to the report, the State Department is planning to inform some three dozen envoys of the administration's position. ``We need to be really clear about our position. We don't want anybody to be surprised when they look up on the day of Durban and wonder why we're not there'', a senior State Department official said. Foreign envoys will be meeting the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Mr. Marc Grossman, as also Under Secretary of State, Ms Paula Dobriansky. Washington has been displeased at the way the agenda for next month's meeting is proceeding and has decided to voice its opinion.
Senior officials of the Bush administration like the Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell, and the National Security Advisor, Dr. Condoleeza Rice, have been in touch with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Mary Robinson, who is the main organiser of the Durban meet. Next week, the final round of meetings begin in Geneva for firming up the agenda. The U.S. has a five-member team from the State Department.
If the Bush administration does stay out of the Durban meeting, that should not come as a surprise. Nor would it be for the first time that Washington is keeping away from the mainstream. Washington faced a lot of criticism recently for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocols. The administration has firmly said that the U.S. will not be a party to anything that is not in its national interests.
One perception here is that the Durban meeting is going to be nothing more than a big shouting match with the ensuing media hoopla. African Americans and some African nations are of the view that reparations are due from countries that participated in the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries; and some Arab organisations have been looking at a 1975 United Nations Resolution that equates Zionism with racism.
The argument has been made in some quarters that given the frustrations in West Asia and the rising tempers and tensions there, Arab nations would seek to use the Durban meeting to condemn Israel and Zionism. ``I think the U.S. should vigorously protest. If it's going to be a circus, the U.S. should send a very low level delegation'', Rabbi Marvin Hire of the Simon Wisenthal Centre of Los Angeles has told The Post. In fact, it is being said that discussions are already under way within the administration on the composition of the delegation should the U.S. decide to go to Durban. Participating or staying out of the Durban meet is a domestic problem for the Bush administration as well; and tempers are really hotting up on Capitol Hill where a Congressional hearing on the Durban conference was postponed at the last minute on the ground that a staffer was unable to attend.
``They (the administration) want to prevent black people from having an opportunity to discuss the World Conference Against Racism in an official setting'', charged Ms. Cynthia McKinney, a senior member of the International Operations Sub Committee of the House of Representatives.