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Monday, 27 August, 2001, 19:39 GMT 20:39 UK
Powell boycotts UN racism summit
Durban conference bill board
Preparations for the conference have been beset by problems
By Stephen Sackur in Washington

US Secretary of State Colin Powell will not attend the World Conference against Racism due to begin in Durban, South Africa, on Friday, the State Department has confirmed.

A department official said the US was still debating whether to send any representation at all to the conference.

The exact nature of our representation, if any, is still being considered

State Department spokesman
He made it plain that Washington was still unhappy about language in preparatory documents, which he claims singled out Israel for condemnation.

Just hours earlier, the United Nations human rights chief, Mary Robinson, said delegates had agreed that moves to equate Zionism with racism would be off the agenda.

'Offensive' language

The absence of Mr Powell will be regarded as a significant blow by the organisers, not least UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The two men have been in regular contact over the last few days as Mr Annan tried to persuade Mr Powell that US concerns about the wording of preparatory documents were being heeded.

Colin Powell
Mr Powell's absence is a significant blow

But the effort at persuasion failed - a State Department spokesman cited offensive language about Israel and a singling out of Israel as the reasons for Mr Powell's decision not to travel to Durban.

"The exact nature of our representation, if any, is still being considered," he said.

The Americans have focused most of their discontent on wording in preparatory documents which equated Zionism with racism.

Slave reparations

There was also unhappiness with apparent support for reparations for slavery, but it was the condemnation of Israel which seems to have been decisive.

Anti-Israel protest in Cape Town
Israel has been singled out for condemnation

Human rights groups and non-governmental agencies around the world, while not surprised by the US announcement, are likely to be highly critical.

Michael McClintock of Human Rights Watch said it reflected a wider US trend toward unilateralism.

However, the absence of Mr Powell from Durban is sure to be welcomed by Jewish groups, who have loudly condemned what they describe as efforts to impose an anti-Israel agenda on the Durban conference.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"The absence of Mr Powell from Durban is sure to be welcomed by Jewish groups"
See also:

11 Aug 01 | Americas
Slavery row dogs racism conference
09 Aug 01 | Americas
US may boycott racism conference
30 Jul 01 | Africa
Rows threaten racism conference
27 Jul 01 | Middle East
Zionism issue threatens summit
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