Saturday, February 28, 2009

US official: We won't participate in Durban II conference

Associated Press , THE JERUSALEM POST

The United States has decided not to participate in a UN conference on racism in April unless the final document is changed to drop all references to Israel and the defamation of religion, a senior US official said Friday.

The conference is a follow-up to the contentious 2001 conference in the South African city of Durban which was dominated by clashes over the Middle East and the legacy of slavery. The US and Israel walked out midway through that eight-day meeting over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism to racism. Israel and Canada have already announced that they will boycott the upcoming World Conference Against Racism in Geneva from April 20-25, known as Durban II, but US President Barack Obama's administration decided to assess the negotiations before making a decision on US participation.

Last week, the State Department sent two US representatives to Geneva, where the final document to be issued by conference participants at the end of the conference is being negotiated, the US officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because an official announcement has not yet been made.

The representatives - Betty White, a former US ambassador to the UN Economic and Social Council, and Felice Gaer, the chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom - held 30 meetings with representatives of different countries and attended the negotiations, the US official said.

While the US presence was warmly welcomed, the US official said that in the negotiations, a bad document got worse.

The United States has decided that it will not participate in further negotiations on the outcome document and will not participate in the conference itself on the basis of the latest text, the US official said.

The Obama administration would reconsider its position if the document improves in a number of areas including dropping references to any specific country, references to defamation of religion which the US views as a free speech issue, and language on reparations for slavery. It also wants a shorter text and does not want the final document for Durban II to reaffirm the final document from the 2001 Durban conference, the US official said.

Itzhak Levanon, Israel's former UN envoy in Geneva, said before departing last August that with Libya chairing preparations for Durban II and Iran and Cuba also involved, the conference had the making of another international "bashing of Israel."
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