U.S. to attend Durban II planning session


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The United States will participate in planning a controversial international conference against racism.

The State Department announced late Feb. 14 that it would send a delegation to the Feb. 16-19 consultations for the United Nations-sponsored World Conference Against Racism, dubbed Durban II, "as a means of evaluating the current direction of Conference preparations and whether U.S. participation in the Conference itself is warranted."

The conference, which will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, in April, has threatened to be similar to the first conference, held in South Africa in 2001. Arab states and their supporters used the Durban conference to attack Israel.

The United States and Israel walked out of the Durban conference after the introduction of a resolution comparing Zionism to racism, which is likely to be raised again.

"This will be the first opportunity the [Obama] Administration has had to engage in the negotiations for the Durban Review, and — in line with our commitment to diplomacy  — the U.S. has decided to send a delegation to engage in the negotiations on the text of the conference document," a statement from the State Department read.

"The intent of our participation is to work to try to change the direction in which the Review Conference is heading. We hope to work with other countries that want the Conference to responsibly and productively address racism around the world."

The statement added that U.S. participation in what it called "informal negotiations" did not indicate that the United States has decided to participate in the actual conference. Decisions about participating in the conference or other planning sessions leading up to it "will be taken at a later date, depending on the results that we see from the negotiating process," according to the statement.

Canada and Israel already have announced that they will boycott the conference.

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