WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will not attend a U.N. conference on racism that critics say will be a forum to bash Israel and will no longer take part in preparatory sessions for it, a U.S. official said on Friday.
“We will not attend,” the official said of the World Conference on Racism set for April in Geneva, Switzerland.
The decision to end U.S. involvement comes one day before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves on her first trip to the Middle East in her new job, including stops in Israel, and removes a likely source of friction during the visit.
A U.S. delegation took part in negotiations this month with 30 other countries to try to win changes in the conference’s final document, but said at the time the United States would not necessarily attend the conference.
The U.S. team has now decided the draft document is “not salvageable” and would not be in line with U.S. policy, another official said.
Critics of the April conference say Arab nations plan to use it to slam Israel. They also have focussed on sections they say would limit freedom of religion and speech.
The United States and Israel walked out of the first U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, days before the September 11 attacks, to protest efforts to pass a resolution comparing Zionism to racism.
Israel has called for a boycott of the April conference, and Canada also has said it will not attend.
The decision to bow out of the process drew praise from some U.S. politicians and Jewish groups. “It became clear through the preliminary negotiations that the focus of the conference will not change and the goals would not be met,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
The Anti-Defamation League said the Durban conference had become too politicized.
“The Durban Review Conference has itself been tainted by the very bigotry and vitriol that it was meant to counter,” Abraham Foxman, national director, and Glen Lewy, national chairman, said in a joint statement.
The decision to take part in talks on the draft document reversed the stance of the Bush administration, which had refused to take part in the planning and voted in the U.N. General Assembly last year to protest against the conference.
U.S. officials said attending the planning sessions was in line with President Barack Obama’s promise of a more engaged diplomatic approach and more cooperation with the United Nations.
Editing by Xavier Briand