The Obama administration is preparing to join an international advisory group that the United States generally has shunned due to fears it would adopt anti-Israeli and anti-Western positions, US officials said Wednesday.
The officials told The Associated Press the administration plans to announce as early as this week that it will begin a formal relationship with the Alliance of Civilizations.
The five-year-old, UN-backed organization aims to ease strains between societies and cultures, particularly the West and Islam.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the decision publicly.
The Bush administration boycotted the group when it was founded in 2005 over because it feared the group would become a forum for bashing Israel and the United States. Those concerns were magnified a year later when the alliance released a report that officials in Washington said unfairly blamed Israel and the United States for many of the world's problems.
Since President Barack Obama came into office last year, the United States has opened the door slowly to informal dealings with the alliance, including attending some of its meetings as an observer.
'More positive approach'
The United States has yet to join the alliance by becoming a member of its "Group of Friends," countries and organizations that have lent their names and support to its goal of countering the rise of religious extremism and cultural polarization.
The decision to join grows out of Obama's desire to broaden US participation in international groups and improve its standing among Muslims.
Earlier moves have included Obama's thus far failed outreach to Iran and Syria, his speech from Egypt last year to the world's Muslims and the US decision to join the much-criticized UN Human Rights Commission.
The United States also participated in preparatory meetings for a UN conference on racism that the administration ultimately boycotted because of its expected anti-Semitic position.
The US had been the only member of the Group of 20 major advanced and emerging economies to refuse to join the friends group, which now includes 118 countries and organizations.
Many nations in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia are members along with multilateral blocs including the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Israel and the United States have been among the conspicuous holdouts.
The officials said earlier fears about the "imbalances" in the group, which was set up by Spain and Turkey, had been dealt with after the United States expressed "serious concerns" about the 2006 report.
That report focused on the Middle East and identified Israel's "disproportionate retaliatory actions in Gaza and Lebanon" as a main cause of Muslim-Western tension.
The officials said the administration had been assured by its current leader, former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, that it would take a "more positive" approach to its work.
The officials said they had consulted closely with Israel on the decision to join the alliance. Israel has no plans to join, diplomats said.