Commentary Magazine


The Durban Diplomatic Non-Decision

The four-day Durban II planning meeting in Geneva ended last Thursday, but the State Department announced Friday that the U.S. has not yet decided whether to participate in further planning or attend the April 20-24 conference.  The announcement said the “work” done in Geneva last week “will be important information for taking these decisions,” but gave no indication of leaning in any direction.

Anyone who has read the first or second report by Anne Bayefsky on the Geneva meeting already knows what those decisions should be.  If there is any doubt, one need only read her third report, published yesterday at

Bayefsky portrayed a conference continuing on its predictable course, with grossly objectionable proposals that were not changed (and sometimes not opposed) by the U.S. delegation — whose official mission had been to “engage in the negotiations on the text of the conference document” and “try to change the direction in which [Durban II] is heading”:

The U.S. administration attended four full days of negotiation. During that time they witnessed the following: the failure to adopt a proposal to act against Holocaust denial, a new proposal to single out Israel, which will now be included in the draft without brackets, broad objections to anything having to do with sexual orientation, vigorous refusal by many states to back down on references to “Islamophobia” (the general allegation of a racist Western plot to discriminate against all Muslims), and numerous attacks on free speech.

So what will Obama do?  There are no further Durban planning meetings until the second week of April, just before the conference begins.  It seems clear that, if the direction of the conference did not change last week (and indeed got worse), it is not going to change in April.  Bayefsky thinks there is a strategy lurking in the current non-decision:

The strategy is painfully obvious — spin out the time for considering whether or not to attend the April 20 conference until the train has left the station and jumping off would cause greater injury to multilateral relations than just taking a seat. . . .

The delay tactics are indefensible. . . . But you can be sure that the State Department report now on Obama’s desk reads “can’t tell yet, don’t know, maybe, too early to tell.”

Actually, the delegation has not — and apparently will not — make a written report.  Here is part of the colloquy at Friday’s State Department press briefing:

QUESTION: So bottom — you haven’t walked away from the process yet.

MR. DUGUID: Well, those decisions will be made once we have a full review and when the team returns and they’ve had a chance to sort of write up, you know, their thoughts and present them to the Secretary. The — it will be a verbal briefing and they will give their advice on where they think the process is going, and whether or not we can affect what is going to happen in the full session. . . .

The press spokesman wanted to make sure reporters understood that waiting for the delegation “to sort of write up, you know, their thoughts” did not mean there will actually be a written report.  It will be a “verbal briefing.”

A written report would have to detail the facts Bayefsky has reported.  It would render delay impossible, since it would make the proper decision obvious.  Better to have a verbal briefing, as part of a “full review” that will consume considerable time.  Sometimes a non-decision is effectively a decision.

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