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U.S. to boycott UN conference on racism, say officials

The United States will not attend a UN conference on racism in Geneva unless the final document produced by the summit drops references to Israel and language on the defamation of religion, U.S. officials said Friday.

The United States will not attend a UN conference on racism in Geneva unless the final document produced by the summit drops references to Israel and language on the defamation of religion, U.S. officials said Friday.

One senior official, who requested anonymity, told the Associated Press that representatives from the Obama administration and the United Nations were in negotiations over the document last week.

The official said that on the basis of their assessment, the U.S. has decided not to participate in negotiations or the conference unless references to specific countries and the defamation of religion are dropped, and the wording about reparations for slavery is changed.

The document criticizes the defamation of Islam in particular and contains pointed criticism of Israeli actions towards Palestinians.

The website politico.com reported that White House aides said the Obama administration would still consider joining the talks if a shorter, much different text were prepared.

Clinton preparing for Mideast tour

The news comes just before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves for a tour of the Middle East that will include a stop in Israel. Earlier this week, Israeli Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog pressed the U.S. not to attend the conference, saying it "stands to focus on hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people."

Obama had said the United States would consider attending the conference, due to begin on Apr. 20. A decision to send representatives would have reversed the policy of the previous Bush adminsitration, which had said it would boycott the conference.  

Canada decided last year not to take part in the conference, saying the first such conference in 2001 was a forum for expressions of anti-Semitism and intolerance.

At the time, Hedy Fry, head of Ottawa's delegation to the conference in Durban, South Africa castigated the summit for what she characterized as attempts to de-legitimize the state of Israel — largely by Arab and Muslim countries.

Consequently, the Canadian delegation disassociated itself from all text in the document referring to the situation in the Middle East.

U.S. and Israeli representatives left that conference, decrying language that they deemed hateful and anti-Semitic.

With files from the Associated Press

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