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UN Asks Arab Countries Not To Jeopardize Racism Conference - 2001-07-30

Talks have opened in Geneva Monday to resolve a controversy over the agenda for the upcoming World Conference against Racism. The United States has threatened to boycott the conference which is scheduled to begin at the end of August in Durban, South Africa.

The U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, has urged Arab delegates to drop wording from a draft document that seeks to equate Zionism with racism.

In opening remarks, she said the United Nations has already dealt with the issue at length and anyone seeking to reopen the matter is putting the Durban conference at risk. She also said she was acutely aware of the suffering of the Palestinian people and dismayed at the continuing toll of death and injury on a daily basis.

The United States has threatened to boycott the racism conference over the Zionism proposal. Zionism is the movement that led to the establishment and development of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Ms. Robinson says she senses a political will to see the conference succeed, referring to closed-door negotiations over the past few weeks.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer in Washington earlier singled out the Zionism issue as a conference-wrecker. He cautioned those planning the meeting not to take it in the direction of what he called anti-semitism.

The United States and European nations also object to African proposals calling on countries that prospered from slavery and colonialism to pay compensation for the suffering they caused.

Delegates meeting in Geneva will try to agree on an agenda and the draft of a final declaration for the Durban conference.