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Racism Conference Remains Knotted

On what was supposed to be the final day of the World Conference Against Racism, talks remain deadlocked over two issues, the Middle East, and reparations for slavery and colonialism.

The musical group "Gathering Forces" was supposed to play at the closing ceremony Friday evening. But with the end time of the conference in doubt, the performance was moved to Friday morning.

For days now, two working committees have been toiling over the two contentious issues: the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and reparations for slavery and colonialism. They are trying to draft language for the conference declaration and program of action.

But sources close to the negotiations indicate they are still deadlocked over several key points.

When and how will it end? There are two options. The delegates could keep haggling over the contentious issues until they reach a consensus. Or they could decide that agreement is impossible and just give up.

If the working committees reach consensus, they will pass their texts on to the main conference committee for adoption. If they decide no agreement is possible, under the conference rules of procedure the main committee will decide the matter by a vote. Susan Markham is the conference spokeswoman: "We hope that it will not require a vote," she said. "We hope that delegations will be able to reach consensus. But in the final analysis, the rules of procedure are there to help the conference come to a final agreement."

It would take a two-thirds majority to pass any language for the declaration and program of action.

Most European nations, Canada and Australia have already indicated they will not accept any language branding Israel a racist state, which is what Arab nations have been calling for.

Ms. Markham says she thinks the delegates will try to reach a consensus, but that any member state is entitled to call for a vote at any time.

If neither happens by midnight local time, delegates will stop the clocks and just keep working.