BRUSSELS, Belgium – America's closest allies said Tuesday they plan to stay at the U.N. racism conference and fight for changes in anti-Israeli language that prompted the United States and Israel to walk out of the international gathering.
Hard-line Islamic groups, however, condemned the decision Monday to withdraw from the U.N. conference in Durban, South Africa. Lebanese legislator Kaissar Muawad said the Durban conference "unmasked the face of Zionism as an ugly racist regime."
Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said he was disappointed at the U.S. pullout, saying he expected the United States "to play a role of moderation."
In announcing the decision to leave, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said conferences cannot combat racism if they produce declarations "containing hateful language" or single out "only one country in the world, Israel, for censure and abuse."
However, Japan, Canada and the European Union said they would stay in Durban.
European Union spokesman Gunnar Wiegand said the views of the 15 EU governments were "very similar" to those of the United States. "We do not perceive it will be very helpful to the conference if a withdrawal takes place," Wiegand said here Tuesday.
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, speaking on behalf of the EU, said his delegation wanted language pertaining to the Middle East completely rewritten.
Canada's chief delegate, Hedy Fry, expressed understanding for the American decision but said it will "undoubtedly make the work being undertaken in Durban that much more difficult."
"We will continue the dialogue unless it becomes clear to us that a satisfactory outcome is impossible," Fry said. "The conference still has time to run."
In Berlin, German officials said they believed the conference was worthwhile even though the EU opposes linking Zionism with racism.
"Together with our EU partners, Germany will work for bridging the gaps and making the conference a success," a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity.
Sweden's chief delegate at Durban, Deputy Industry Minister Mona Sahlin, said the United States "left the conference far too early, before the negotiations were concluded." She told Swedish radio the Europeans would "try to get the discussion to focus on racism in the world today."
India's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Nirupama Rao, urged the conference to take a "forward-looking approach." India is seeking warmer relations with Washington following the Cold War, when the country was close to Moscow.
Despite their opposition to anti-Israeli language, European countries are seeking better ties with Islamic countries and are trying to mediate between Arabs and Israelis at a time when the United States is seeking a lower diplomatic profile.
For the Europeans to bolt the conference would also anger their former colonies in Africa -- with whom Britain, France and Belgium maintain special ties.
Italy's La Stampa newspaper, said the U.S. walkout "marks the beginning of a new Cold War" between rich countries of the north and developing countries of the south.
"This has very little to do with the crisis in the Middle East, but it certainly makes it more difficult to find a solution," the newspaper said. "From the battle of Durban nobody comes out a winner."
There was harsh criticism of the United States from Islamic groups in several countries with large Muslim populations.
"It is shameful that America, which champions ... human rights, is ignoring the killings of innocent Palestinians," said Ameerul Azeem, a spokesman for Pakistan's Islamic Party.
In Malaysia the country's biggest opposition group condemned the U.S. pullout. "It is a gross mistake," said Hatta Ramli, spokesman for the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.
China's official Xinhua news agency quoted the leader of the Chinese delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Wang Guangya, as saying the conference showed the Palestinians "are still deprived of their legitimate rights and interests."