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Thursday, February 19, 2009

US Role at Durban II

Yesterday the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), released a statement welcoming what he described as President Obama’s decision to “launch a high-level diplomatic effort” to change the direction of the Durban II conference, by sending a delegation to the preparatory meeting this week in Geneva. Berman put the decision in the context of moral leadership:

It is critical that the United States regain its moral voice at the U.N. by jumping into the fray and stipulating clear redlines for re-focusing Durban II, including the removal of language in the Outcome Document attacking Israel or singling it out for criticism.

Berman said that, by going to the Geneva preparatory meeting and telling the participants “we refuse to accept outright anti-Semitism or an attempt to single out Israel,” we are “reasserting our moral leadership in world affairs.”

What we are witnessing, however, is anything but a “high-level diplomatic effort.” The State Department announced on Saturday, February 14, that it was sending a delegation to the meeting, scheduled to begin on Monday, February 16, to “engage in negotiations on the text” of the conference document and “try to change the direction” of Durban II. The announcement did not state who was leading the delegation nor name its members.

At the State Department press briefing on February 17, two days into the meeting, the spokesperson could not identify the leader or members of the delegation:

QUESTION: Can you talk about who is in the delegation, who’s leading the delegation?

MR. DUGUID: I can only - I’ll have to take the question, because I know that the delegation left on Saturday. I didn’t get a full readout of who was in the delegation.

At yesterday’s State Department press briefing, the question was raised again:

QUESTION: Do you have any update of the talks about the Durban conference in Geneva?

MR. DUGUID: The - I haven’t had a readout yet. Our group is there on the ground. It is made up of officials from our U.S.-UN - the U.S. Mission to the UN in Geneva as well as private partners in that. I don’t have a readout now. . . .

Marty Peretz wrote yesterday that the delegation consists of three people “made up of small fry so if they come home with nothing not much will have really been lost.”

Obama is in the process of making either a low-level, half-hearted diplomatic effort before withdrawing from Durban II, or a low-level, half-hearted diplomatic effort before participating in it: we will learn which in due course. But what is currently going on is not a “high level diplomatic effort” involving “moral leadership.” Moral leadership will occur if Obama decides to withdraw from Durban II - if, in other words, he decides to do what George W. Bush did in connection with Durban I.

Read it here.

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