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White House: US Delegate At Racism Conference Could Still Leave Over Zionism Issue - 2001-08-31

President Bush says the United States is boycotting the international conference on racism because of a planned motion equating Zionism with racism. The Bush administration is represented at the conference in South Africa, but only to register its protest.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says there has been no change in the president's position to boycott the conference because of the anti-Israeli language. A deputy assistant secretary was sent to Durban in one last push to have that language removed.

If it is not, Mr. Fleishcer says the administration will not take part. "The president indicated that he wanted to make every effort to clean up the language so that the racism conference did not have language that was anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic," he said. "The president was pleased with the actions that the conference took on the reparations side of the language, for example. I can tell you that nobody is more disappointed that the conference took the turn it took than Colin Powell, who very much would have liked to have gone."

Mr. Powell is the country's first African-American Secretary of State. U.S. civil rights leaders feel the Bush administration missed an opportunity to speak-out against racism by canceling his trip in protest.

The administration did get the conference to change language it found objectionable concerning reparations for victims of the African slave trade. But it could not convince organizers to back away from a motion equating Israel's treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi Holocaust of World War II that killed 6 million Jews.

President Bush said he would not take part in a conference that isolates what he calls a "friend and strong ally" in Israel. Mr. Fleischer says the state department official is at the conference as a sign of willingness to work to the last minute to "clean-up" the anti-Israeli language. If he cannot, the White House spokesman says the official will be withdrawn without participating further in the conference.

An observer from the U.S. consulate in Durban and a U.S. congressional delegation will remain regardless of what happens with the motion.