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Racism Conference Delegates Deadlocked Over Wording of Declaration - 2001-09-06

Delegates to the World Conference Against Racism remain locked in negotiations aimed at salvaging the session. Delegates continue are battling for a seventh night in a row over the wording of the conference declaration and program of action.

For days, the conference has been deadlocked over two issues - the Middle East, and reparations for slavery and colonialism. As time runs out before the scheduled end of the conference, delegates are reluctant to give the media details about proposals now on the table because they do not want to jeopardize their bargaining positions.

There are conflicting reports over whether progress has been made on the reparations issue. One source close to the European Union delegation says all that remains to agree upon is whether or not the document will refer to colonialism as a crime against humanity.

Western nations fear they will be vulnerable to lawsuits if they agree to that. But a spokesman for Brazil, which is co-moderating the talks along with Kenya, told VOA there are still several contentious issues that have yet to be agreed on.

The status of talks on the Middle East language remain unclear. The European Union says it has accepted compromise language proposed by the president of the conference, South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The South African text recognizes the plight of the Palestinian people, but strips out any reference to Israel as a racist state.

Arab countries have rejected the proposal, although they continue to negotiate over changes that could make it acceptable. However, the source close to the Europeans says the EU delegates would rather walk out than accept language condemning Israel as racist.

The United States and Israel walked out of the conference after Arab nations rejected a Norwegian compromise proposal.

With negotiations deadlocked over the two most contentious issues, spokeswoman Susan Markham admits the conference may need to be extended by at least a day. But she and other conference officials say there are no immediate plans to do so.

The chairman of the drafting committee, Iranian Ambassador Ali Khorram says the conference has adopted 302 of the 445 paragraphs in the declaration and program of action. He says about 80 paragraphs remain contentious, mainly dealing with the Middle East, reparations for slavery, and a definition of discrimination.