Muslim-backed references to Israel and the "defamation of religion" have been dropped from a draft declaration being prepared for next month's world racism meeting, United Nations officials said Tuesday.

The United States and the 27-nation European Union have threatened to boycott the April 20-25 meeting in Geneva unless Muslim countries back down from demands to limit free speech that criticizes Islam or other faiths.

They also objected to passages that singled out Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. Israel has already said it would boycott the meeting.

The draft declaration now speaks only of concern about the "negative stereotyping of religions" while omitting direct references to Israel.

"We believe this shortened text represents a solid and meaningful basis for negotiations by member states toward a positive outcome for the conference," said Doune Porter, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office in Geneva.

Western diplomats declined to comment immediately on the new draft, except to indicate that it appeared to go in the right direction.

The meeting is designed to review progress in fighting racism since the global body's first such conference, eight years ago in Durban, South Africa. The 2001 event was dominated by clashes over the Middle East and the legacy of slavery, and UN officials have expressed alarm that the followup conference could collapse over the same issues.

Canada announced last year that it would boycott the Geneva conference, saying it feared a repeat of the Durban conference.

A statement issued by Maxime Bernier, foreign affairs minister at the time, said the Durban conference had degenerated into "expressions of intolerance and anti-Semitism that undermined the principles of the United Nations."

The conference was a "circus of intolerance," said Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney, who was secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity last year.