Obama Reconsidering Boycott of U.N. Racism Conference

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The Obama administration is reconsidering its planned boycott of a controversial U.N. racism conference that is deeply opposed by Israel and Jewish groups and will be attended by Iran’s president, the State Department said late Monday.

In a move likely to upset its staunchest Mideast ally and its supporters, the department said the administration was pleased by a diplomatic push to revise an objectionable document that the meeting will adopt and suggested it could attend the meeting if the efforts succeed.

“We hope that these remaining concerns will be addressed so that the United States can re-engage the conference process with the hope of arriving at a conference document that we can support,” spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.

The announcement came as the administration reviews its policy on Iran with an eye toward engaging the Islamic government and as Iran’s official news agency reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend the April 20-25 World Conference Against Racism in Geneva.

In February, the Obama administration said it would not attend the U.N. meeting unless its final document was changed to drop all references to Israel and the defamation of religion.

Although specific references to Israel subsequently were deleted, the document retained language affirming the findings of the first World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa, that many believed were anti-Semitic.

The United States and Israel walked out of the 2001 conference in Durban over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism — the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state — to racism.

In February, after attending preparatory meetings for the follow-up conference, the Obama administration said it would not attend “Durban II” unless the meeting’s final document was changed to drop references to Israel, defamation of religion and demands for reparations for slavery.

Wood said Monday that there had been “substantial improvements” to the draft but that there were elements that “continue to pose significant concerns,” including the affirmation of the Durban declaration and a portion on incitement to religious hatred that the U.S. sees as “suggested support for restrictions on freedom of expression.”

Israel and Canada already have announced they will boycott the meeting.

Israel, which was deeply concerned when the administration sent a delegation to the preparatory meeting, has lobbied hard for the U.S. to stay away from the conference.

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