[UPDATE]: US Won’t Attend UN Racism Conference

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via MSNBC

UNITED NATIONS – The United States won’t
participate in a U.N. conference on racism in April unless the final
document is changed to drop all references to Israel and criticism of
religion, a senior U.S. 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 U.S. and Israel walked out
midway through that eight-day meeting over a draft resolution that
singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism — the movement to
establish and maintain a Jewish state — 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 President Barack Obama’s administration decided to
assess the negotiations before making a decision on U.S. participation.

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

The
representatives — Betty King, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Economic and Social Council, and Felice Gaer, the chair of the U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom — held 30 meetings with
representatives of different countries and attended the negotiations,
the U.S. official said.

Drawing the line
While the U.S. presence was warmly welcomed, the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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
U.S. official said.

Further details on the issues in question were
not available as the latest version of the final document being
negotiated in Geneva has not been released.

European
nations have expressed hope that the conference can go ahead with a
final text that is acceptable. But they have also drawn lines they say
may not be crossed.

French
diplomat Daniel Vosgien said in December that his country was firmly
opposed to the idea of banning criticism of religion. Dutch Foreign
Minister Maxime Verhagen said at the time that the Netherlands would
walk out unless anti-Israel statements were scrapped.

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