Durban, South Africa Under threat of a devastating European walkout, the World Conference Against Racism held closed-door meetings Wednesday to try to find compromise language on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and reparations for slavery.
France warned that it and the European Union could follow the United States and Israel by walking out on the U.N. meeting, which was meant to highlight discrimination around the world, but has been marred by discord over efforts to condemn Israel for "racist policies."
"If comparisons between Zionism and racism remain, the question of France's and the European Union delegations' departure would be posed immediately," French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin told a Cabinet meeting, according to a spokesman. "France and the European Union would seek a departure from this conference, which would mark a failure."
An EU deadline on the issue set for Wednesday night was reached without a compromise, said Koen Vervaeke, spokesman for Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel. He said a special drafting committee finished its work Wednesday night without an accord.
Vervaeke said the EU had given South African mediators its position and would now wait to see what kind of text they come up with. It wasn't immediately clear if that would occur during today's session.
Earlier Wednesday, in an effort to save the conference, Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland sent his deputy, Raymond Johansen, to Durban to take over leadership of the Norwegian delegation.
"The racism conference is in danger of completely breaking down. I am going to Durban to try to contribute to it reaching a result that does not damage the international battle against racism," Johansen said.
Norway had tried unsuccessfully earlier in the week to broker a deal between the United States, Israel and the Arab states.
Delegates from the 15 EU countries said they would act as a bloc along with 13 nations that are candidates for EU membership.
In the original draft text, Israel is the only nation singled out for condemnation. Among the sticking points were references to the "racist practice of Zionism," and description of the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state as an ideology "based on racial superiority."