U.S. doesn’t want conference to promote abortion

The Associated Press
Wednesday August 29, 2001

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration wants to ensure that a U.N. conference on children does not proclaim support for abortion, officials said Tuesday. It was the latest sign of a prickly relationship between the United States and the United Nations, which already are at odds over a racism meeting. 

The government plans to send a Cabinet-level delegation to the special U.N. General Assembly session on children next month in New York, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. 

In contrast, Secretary of State Colin Powell will not attend a U.N. conference on racism that begins Friday in South Africa because of a planned declaration that accuses Israel of racist policies against Palestinians. The administration has not decided whom, if anybody, to send. 

Boucher insisted the disputes over language before the children’s conference are just part of a regular give and take. “We have every expectation that we can work them out, and that we can be there, and that we will be there at a high level,” Boucher said. 

The administration wants language that “does not support or advance the idea of abortion. So we’re not against family planning language,” he said. 

U.N. officials insisted the draft documents do not address abortion. 

“It is not about abortion; none of the documents refer directly, indirectly or any other way to abortion, and never have,” UNICEF spokeswoman Liza Barrie said. 

The draft document includes a line that says nations should “promote and protect the right of the adolescent to sexual and reproductive health education, information and services in order to ... avoid unwanted or early pregnancies.” 

The two tussles with the United Nations come at a time when many of America’s allies have criticized President Bush’s decision to withhold support for several international treaties and have worried he is moving the United States toward isolationism. 

In Austria, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he hoped the United States would decide to attend the racism conference but said the decision is “the sovereign right of each country.” 

Bush will address the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 24, as presidents traditionally do. His advisers insist the United States is not withdrawing from the world but merely practicing “a la carte multinationalism” — joining allies and participating in global meetings when it suits U.S. interests. 

“Thus far you have to conclude that they’re anorexic, because they haven’t found any dishes that they like,” said Antony Blinken, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Clinton administration official. 

Since taking office, Bush has rejected the Kyoto climate-change treaty, pushed forward with a missile-defense shield and abandoned talks on enforcing a 1972 treaty against germ warfare. The administration also opposes other treaties, including one to create an international criminal court, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal. 

Others believe that it makes sense for the administration to avoid U.N. conferences it opposes as long as it provides alternatives. 

“If you’re bailing out of everything, it reduces the political value of bailing out of things in particular,” said Timothy Crawford, a postdoctoral fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Studies. 

For its part, the United Nations still resents that the United States has not paid $460 million in back dues, yet still seeks American input, said Richard Falk, an international law professor at Princeton University. 

“There’s a broad recognition that despite the criticism of the United States, the U.S. is a necessary participant in any kind of effective U.N. undertaking,” Falk said. 

The summit on children would be the largest gathering of world leaders this year with 75 heads of government. It will focus on issues such as child health, child soldiers and child labor. 

On the Net: 

Racism conference: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/racism/index.htm