A US senator says the United States has decided not to attend next year's follow-up to the 2001 UN World Conference on Racism because the panel seems certain to repeat anti-Semitic and anti-Israel positions of the original gathering.
The United States and Israel walked out of that conference, which ended two days before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Thursday that the United States had not yet determined whether to participate. He said the decision would be up to the next US administration because the conference is to take place after President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009.
But, he said, the US has seen nothing from the organizers that would change Washington's view that the conference's tone will be anti-Semitic. "I certainly don't think that presently we view it as a particularly valuable activity," Casey said.
Word that the United States would reject the conference again came from Republican US Senator Norm Coleman. In a news release, Coleman said the decision came in response to a letter he and 26 fellow senators wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"The US walked out of this conference after the anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli activities reached such an intolerable level that it was beyond repair," the letter said. It called the conference "yet another example of a seemingly noble UN agenda item being hijacked by member states to spew anti-Semitism."
'Too much time spent trying to condemn Israel'
Canada already announced it is boycotting the conference, known as Durban II for the South African city hosting it. In announcing the decision last month, Canada's secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, Jason Kenney, said, "We'll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance."
The Bush administration showed its distaste for the conference in December by refusing to accept a consensus vote on a preliminary UN budget for 2008-2009 and demanding a recorded vote. The vote was 141 to 1, the no vote coming from the United States.
A separate recorded vote on including the Durban II language in the budget also passed, but the United States, Canada and 38 other countries voted against it. Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland abstained.
In the letter, Coleman and the others had particularly bitter words for governments and people being appointed to run Durban II. Libya was appointed to chair the Executive Committee of the Preparatory Committee; a vice chairman is Iran, "despite the fact that this country's leader has called for the destruction of Israel and been a leader on one of the most despicable forms of racism and Holocaust denial."
In 2001, Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, explained on television why the Americans and Israelis had walked out: Participants "spent far too much time trying to condemn Israel and single it out, and I think the United States made the right decision to leave."