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U.S. May Sit Out UN Conference on Racism - Report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is threatening to skip an upcoming U.N. conference on racism if the agenda includes discussions on reparations for slavery and Zionism as racism, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
Citing a senior State Department official, the newspaper said the Bush administration will present its position to dozens of Washington-based ambassadors on Friday and seek support for keeping the two topics off the conference agenda.

The United Nations (news - web sites) Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is to take place in Durban, South Africa from Aug. 31 to Sept. 7.

``We need to be really clear about our position,'' the State Department official was quoted as saying. ``We don't want anybody to be surprised when they look up on the day of Durban and wonder why we're not there.''

The Post said the official's comment was a firm message to Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the main organizer of the racism conference.

Robinson on Monday will open the final round of meetings in Geneva to discuss the agenda for the racism conference.

``I am aware that there are quite a number of hurdles,'' Robinson was quoted as saying.

Arab and Asian nations have put forward a draft declaration that calls Israeli treatment of Palestinians ``a new kind of apartheid.''

The international watchdog group Human Rights Watch has been pressing for discussion of the subject of compensation for slavery.

``Some delegations in Geneva have proposed unacceptable language in several paragraphs'' of the draft agenda, a State Department spokeswoman told Reuters late on Thursday.

``Serious work has to be done to eliminate unbalanced and inflammatory language on the Middle East and slavery and reparations,'' spokeswoman Brenda Greenberg said.

She said the United States objected to, among other things, the language that Israeli government policies are racist and constitute a new form of apartheid.

``We have made clear our opposition to this language in the strongest possible terms,'' Greenberg said.

The United States will send a delegation to the Geneva meeting ``and will decide the exact nature of U.S. participation at the world conference'' after that, the spokeswoman said.



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