POWELL won't attend racism conference; uncertain whether U.S. will send anyone

Monday, August 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON AP) _ Secretary of State Colin Powell will not participate in a U.N. conference on racism because of Arab-backed proposals accusing Israel of racist practices against Palestinians, the State Department announced Monday.

``It's clear to us now the secretary will not go to this conference,'' spokesman Richard Boucher said.

He said the ``exact nature and level of our representation, if any, is still being considered.''

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is traveling in Austria, spoke with Powell over the weekend. She had no details of the conversation.

Asked about U.S. participation in the conference, Annan told reporters in Austria early Monday: ``There are indications from Washington that if they do not get the language they want, they may not participate. Efforts are being made and people are working on the language even as we speak,'' Annan said.

In Johannesburg, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson told reporters ahead of a meeting with South African Prime Minister Thabo Mbeki that flexibility is being shown in the search for language on the Middle East and other issues.

``One thing I would like to reaffirm is that there is a clear understanding that the formulation 'Zionism equals racism' has been done away with,'' she said.

President Bush told a news conference Friday there will be no U.S. representation at the conference so long as delegates ``pick on Israel.''

``If they use the forum as a way to isolate our friend and strong ally, we will not participate'' at any level, Bush said.

Black civil rights activists have pressed Bush to send Powell to the conference.

Israel wants no reference whatsoever to its conflict with Palestinians, calling it a political rather than racial dispute.

Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, made clear Friday that Israel would be singled out for criticism at Durban.

He said he expected the message of the conference to be that racism was unacceptable, ``including those manifestations which are coming from Israel. Israel cannot be exempted from that, period.

``We believe Durban ... will take clear positions in my opinion with regard to all racist practices by the occupying power,'' al-Kidwa said.

The United States also has objected to attempts by some delegates to demand reparations for slavery as part of the debate in Durban.

But the administration in recent weeks has directed most of its fire at Arab efforts to condemn Israel.

The conference will be held from Aug. 31-Sept. 7.