Calling UN Racism Conference Text 'Unsalvageable,' Administration Threatens a Boycott
By Colum Lynch
NEW YORK -- The Obama administration has threatened to boycott a major U.N. conference on racism scheduled for April unless major changes are made to the draft conference outcome document, which they claim unfairly singles out Israel and would restrict freedom of speech.
A State Department official said that the negotiating text is "unsalvageable" and that the United States would only reconsider its position if the negotiators stripped out provisions criticizing Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, as well as calls for restrictions on the defamation of religions, a position that Washington fears could undercut free speech.
The Obama administration sent a delegation to Geneva last week to participate in preliminary negotiations for the conference, which is being held to review strides since the 2001 World Summit Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Other Related Intolerance.
"Unfortunately, the document being negotiated has gone from bad to worse," a State Department official said. "The current text of the draft of the outcome document is, in the United States government's estimation, unsalvageable.
"As a result the United States will not participate in the forthcoming negotiations on this text, nor will we be able to participate in a conference that is based on this text."
It's "possible," the official continued, the U.S. would participate in a conference on a "viable text" that was "shorter" and did not reiterate the 2001 documents. U.S. officials had previously said that any agreement on a declaration would also have to drop a call for reparations for slavery.
U.N. officials had urged the Obama administration to participate in the review conference, saying that the election of the first African American president presents the United States with an opportunity to inspire other minorities around the world and to highlight U.S. progress in the years since slavery was abolished and blacks were granted civil rights.
Israel and Canada have since said they plan to boycott the April review conference, claiming that initial preparatory meetings confirmed their fears of anti-Israel bias in the process.
The debate over U.S. participation has pitted American human rights advocates, who support U.S. participation at the conference, against some American Jewish organizations, who have called for a boycott.
White House officials outlined the U.S. policy in a meeting with American Jewish leaders.
Posted at 2:54 PM ET on Feb 27, 2009
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