The United States and Israel have withdrawn from the World Conference Against Racism in protest over anti-Israeli rhetoric in the conference declaration.
United Nations and South African officials expressed dismay at the U.S. decision.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he made the decision to withdraw his delegation from the conference "with regret." But, in a statement issued in Washington, Mr. Powell said, "you do not combat racism through conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language."
A member of the U.S. delegation said the decision to withdraw came after a Norwegian proposal on wording for the conference declaration was rejected. Congressman Tom Lantos said Arab nations were unwilling to compromise, and the document still singles out Israel for criticism. "Those who have made it their goal to hijack the conference for their propaganda purposes appear have shown, in the course of the day, a degree of rigidity and unwillingness to compromise in any reasonable sense," Rep. Lantos said.
Mr. Lantos also said the outcome has vindicated the decision to keep Mr. Powell at home and send a lower-level delegation to Durban. "Clearly, Colin Powell's presence would have made zero difference in the outcome. He would have been embarrassed and humiliated."
The withdrawal was immediately welcomed by several prominent Jewish groups. But, both the host country, South Africa, and the United Nations expressed their regret at the decision. South African spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa called it an error of judgement.
The conference spokeswoman Susan Markham-Leftwich read a statement on behalf of U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson. "I truly regret the decision of the United States to leave the conference," she said. "Nevertheless, I believe that the journey we began must continue until the end of the conference, with a view to achieving a successful outcome. We must persist in our endeavors. The victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance demand this of us."
There has been swift and negative reaction from some Americans in Durban. U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson strongly condemned the decision to pull out of the conference. He said the United States has missed an opportunity, and is using the Middle East issue to avoid having to talk about other sensitive matters, including reparations for slavery.