NATION/WORLD BRIEFS: Durban Changes, Iran Strategy, Clinton to Speak

U.S. Says Durban Changes Welcome But Insufficient

The United States commended changes in the draft document for “Durban II” but said more was needed to entice it into joining the anti-racism conference.

Jewish groups had welcomed the U.S. decision earlier this year not to attend the event reviewing the original U.N. conference in Durban in 2001. The South Africa parley had devolved into an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish free-for-all, and the review conference April 20-24 in Geneva promised more of the same. Earlier versions of the “draft outcome document” singled out Israel and called for measures against “defamation of religion,” seen as a nod to Islamist extremists who seek to marginalize their critics.

After the Obama administration announced its decision to stay away, European diplomats worked to soften the document. Rumors have swirled in Jewish community circles in recent days that the Obama administration would do an about-face and attend the conference.

The State Department statement released late Monday night suggested, however, that there was a way to go before the United States would reconsider its decision. Significantly, it repeated a demand that first gained currency in Jewish groups: the draft document must not even implicitly endorse the first Durban conference through any generic approbation of its outcome.

“The U.S. believes any viable text for the Review Conference must be shortened and not reaffirm ‘in toto’ the flawed 2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA),” it said. “In addition, while references to ‘defamation of religion’ have been removed from the current draft text, we cannot support restrictions on freedom of expression that could result from some of the document’s language related to “incitement” to religious hatred — a concept that the United States believes should be narrow and clearly defined and made consistent with human rights obligations ensuring freedom of expression.”

The statement commended other changes in the draft document.

“Substantial improvements have been made, including shortening the document, removing all language that singled out any one country or conflict, and removing language that embraced the concept of ‘defamation of religion’ and that demanded reparations for slavery,” it said.

Further changes might bring about a shift in the U.S. position, the statement said.

“We hope that these remaining concerns will be addressed, so that the United States can re-engage the conference process with the hope of arriving at a Conference document that we can support,” it said.

U.S. reportedly changing strategy on Iran

The Obama administration reportedly is changing its strategy on negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

The New York Times reported that the United States and its European allies will insist that Iran must gradually open up its nuclear program to full inspection, but would allow Tehran to continue enriching uranium for some period during the talks. That differs from the Bush administration approach, which demanded that Iran stop enrichment, at least for a short time, at the beginning of negotiations.

Unnamed officials involved in discussions said it isn’t clear how long Iran would be able to continue operating its facilities, but said the Europeans believe that Iran will not accept an immediate shutdown of its activities at the start of negotiations. The officials reiterated, though, that the ultimate goal is for Iran to cease enrichment.

Bill Clinton to Speak at Holocaust Museum Opening

Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker at the opening of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

The former president will be joined at Sunday’s ceremonies in Skokie by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, foreign dignitaries and Holocaust survivors. In 1993, Clinton as president spoke at the dedication ceremony for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

“President Clinton’s participation in the dedication of this world-class institution truly sets the tone for what we want the museum to be,” said Richard Hirschhaut, the museum’s executive director. “Not only does President Clinton’s attendance underscore the urgency of our mission, but also the important role we must all play in combating intolerance and genocide throughout the world today.”

The program will feature a video presentation, a candlelighting by survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides, and musical performances by the Israeli hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari and others.

Beyond the atrocities of Nazi Germany, the $45 million, 65,000-square-foot facility will explore issues of genocide and human rights around the world and throughout history through its public programs, traveling exhibits and “Voices of Conscience” lecture series.

Berman: Hamas Could Scuttle Rejoining IPU

Congressman Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) said he will advise against rejoining the Inter-Parliamentary Union if it does not provide assurances that Hamas will not attend its meetings.

Congress sent an observer mission last week to the union’s annual meeting, taking place this year in Ethiopia, to reconsider its decision in 1999 to leave the international body of lawmakers. Republicans at the time controlled both houses.

“After the U.S. observer delegation completed its participation in the main assembly, it was discovered that two members of Hamas were at the IPU meeting and were registered officially as ‘advisers’ on the Palestinian Delegation,” Berman, the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee said in a statement. “The Hamas ‘advisers’ and the Iranian delegation disrupted the speech of Israeli delegation head Silvan Shalom, Israel’s deputy prime minister.”

Berman noted that it was the policy of the Quartet, the body guiding the Middle East peace process comprised of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, not to deal with Hamas until it renounces violence and recognizes Israel.

“Unless the IPU can assure us that Hamas will not participate as part of the official Palestinian delegation at any future meetings before the Quartet conditions are satisfied, I will be recommending to my colleagues that the U.S. House of Representatives not rejoin the IPU,” he said.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.