WASHINGTON - The United States on Tuesday held out the chance of attending a U.N. conference on racism in Geneva next week but said the final text must remove what Washington views as restrictions on freedom of speech.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood welcomed the toning down of objectionable language deemed hostile toward Israel but indicated more must be done before the United States would reverse a February decision to boycott the meeting.
We commend those who have worked to effect these changes, said Wood of the draft document being negotiated in preparatory meetings. There remain, however, elements of the current draft text that continue to pose significant concerns.
Israel and American Jewish groups have urged the United States not to take part in the conference. Canada and Italy have said they will not attend, and several other countries are considering their participation.
The United States found language in the draft related to incitement to religious hatred problematic because it suggested support for restrictions on freedom of expression, said Wood.
We hope that these remaining concerns will be addressed, so that the United States can reengage the conference process with the hope of arriving at a conference document that we can support, Wood said, indicating the United States might still attend if changes were made to the document.
In addition, Wood said the conference must not reaffirm the flawed statement which emerged from the U.N.'s meeting on racism in 2001 in Durban, South Africa.
The United States and Israel walked out of the Durban meeting before it ended over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism to racism.
European and other countries stayed and ensured its final declaration dropped criticism of Israel.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be destroyed and questioned whether the Holocaust happened, is expected to attend. U.S. participation would create another opportunity for U.S.-Iranian contact.
The Obama administration has rolled back President George W. Bush's isolation policy of Iran and U.S. officials have actively sought out Iranian representatives at recent international meetings.
Last month, senior U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke held a cordial conversation with Iran's delegate on the sidelines of a meeting on Afghanistan in the Hague and President Barack Obama has said he wants a new beginning with Iran.