The United States has withdrawn from the United Nations Conference Against Racism because of language critical of Israel in the conference's draft final declaration. The announcement was made in Washington.
Official word that the United States was leaving the conference in Durban, South Africa, came in the form of a written statement issued in Washington from Secretary of State Colin Powell.
In it, Mr. Powell said he had instructed the U.S. delegation in Durban to return home, citing what he called "hateful language" in the draft final declaration that singles out Israel for "censure and abuse."
Shortly after the Powell statement was issued in Washington, Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced in Jerusalem that his country would follow the U.S. lead and leave the racism conference in Durban.
A South African official at the conference called the U.S. withdrawal "unfortunate and unnecessary." Some delegates and human rights groups were also critical of the U.S. decision to leave the conference.
In his statement, Secretary of State Powell said he made the decision to withdraw the U.S. delegation with regret, because he believed that the U.N. conference could have made a contribution to the international fight against racism.
The United Nations called the conference to formulate an international strategy for dealing with racism around the world. But in the weeks leading up to the conference, attention became heavily focused on the conflict in the Middle East and an attempt by some Arab and Islamic countries to condemn Israel for its treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Last week, Secretary of State Powell announced that he would not attend the conference because of the anti-Israel efforts, but would send a lower-level delegation instead. That decision was hailed by supporters of Israel in the United States, but criticized by others who thought it more important that the first African-American Secretary of State represent the United States in Durban.