U.S. officials say the United States will not participate in a United Nations conference on racism this year unless a draft version of the meeting's final report is drastically changed.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement Friday about the World Conference Against Racism, saying U.S. representatives will be unable to attend the conference, due to open in about two months (April 20-25) in Geneva.
The draft of a final document for the conference has already been circulated among U.N. member nations. The State Department said the draft in its current form is not salvageable. American envoys say it would limit freedoms of religion and speech and would unfairly label Israel's policies as racist.
The statement said the U.S. would be willing to re-engage if an acceptable document becomes the basis for deliberations.
Israel and Canada announced several months ago that they will boycott the Geneva conference, which was intended to carry forward the work of a contentious U.N. conference on racism and intolerance held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa. Israel and the United States walked out of the Durban conference in protest against delegates' attempts to brand Israel as an apartheid state guilty of racism.
Some U.S. officials say they feel the final document for the upcoming Geneva conference is "unsalvageable" as presently drafted. American representatives took part in early working sessions in Geneva, but they are expected to boycott any further meetings on the text of the final report.
Some accounts say the U.S. might reconsider its position if the U.N. draft is stripped of provisions that are seen as unfair condemnation of Israel, as well as a call to restrict any defamation of religions - a stance the American side sees as interference with the fundamental right of free speech.