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EU Countries Vow Not to Abandon Durban - 2001-09-04

European countries say they will stay at the United Nations conference on racism in Durban to try to change anti-Israel language that prompted the United States and Israel to abandon the meeting. Belgium, the current president of the 15-member European Union (EU), says it expects South Africa to draw up a new text on Middle East issues that will tone down a comparison between Zionism and racism.

Despite their opposition to anti-Israeli language, the EU countries show no signs of following the United States walkout.

The EU has long tried to build solid ties to Arab countries, and it also seeks to play a bigger mediation role between Israelis and Palestinians now that the United States has adopted a lower diplomatic profile in the Middle East.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, who heads the EU delegation in Durban, wants the 15-nation group to pay more attention to Africa. A Belgian official says an EU walkout would anger African countries and do more harm than good.

Mr. Michel's deputy, Annemie Neyts-Uytebroeck, told the European Parliament in Strasbourg Tuesday that Belgium deplores portraying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a racial and religious conflict. She says it is a political conflict that demands political solutions. But she accused Israel of feeding the cycle of violence in the Middle East by reacting, in her words, excessively and disproportionately to what she called "abominable" Palestinian suicide and terror attacks.

Some European diplomats see the U.S. abandonment of the Durban conference as another demonstration of its pro-Israel stance in Israel's confrontation with the Palestinians. They say privately that, as long as the United States is seen by Arabs on the street as backing Israel at every turn, there is little hope for an end to the violence in the Middle East.

A German diplomat says Germany will continue to try to make the Durban conference a success. And the head of Sweden's delegation says her country wants to re-focus the discussions in Durban on racism in the world today.

But a normally moderate Italian newspaper, La Stampa, took the apocalyptic view that the U.S. walkout marks the beginning of a new cold war between the rich countries of the north and the developing countries of the south. La Stampa says there are no winners at Durban.