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U.S. sending envoys to racism conference

Boucher said the U.S. delegation's participation in the racism conference will depend on whether criticism of Israel is removed from conference documents.
Boucher said the U.S. delegation's participation in the racism conference will depend on whether criticism of Israel is removed from conference documents.  

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States will send a delegation to a U.N. conference on racism this week in South Africa in an effort to remove language critical of Israel, the State Department said Wednesday.

But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the full "extent and nature" of the participation by the U.S. delegation would depend on whether the language was eliminated from the conference documents.

The announcement came after weeks of negotiations by U.S. officials to remove language from the conference documents that equates Zionism -- an Israeli policy which promotes a Jewish state -- with racism and singles out Israel as a "racist" occupying power. Some of that language was removed, but the Bush administration was not satisfied.

Michael Southwick, deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations, will lead the delegation, Boucher said.

A forum of non-government delegates is already underway, just ahead of official sessions. CNN's Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports (August30)

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But he added that Southwick's official role and that of the other members of the U.S. team at the conference "has yet to be determined." A senior State Department official indicated that Southwick would be the U.S. representative, should the United States decide to join the conference as an official participant.

The State Department had announced Monday that Secretary of State Colin Powell would not attend the conference because of the language on Israel.

Boucher said that sending a high-level delegation would associate the United States with positions at the conference that it considered "offensive."

"The level tends to imply a certain association that we may not, certainly don't want with this kind of language," he said Monday. "We spent years working to eradicate some of these ideas from the U.N. system, and we don't think this is a time or the place to put them back in."

The U.N. General Assembly, which had labeled Israeli policies of Zionism as "racist" in 1975, dropped the charge after the 1991 Madrid peace talks.

U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson said Monday that the conference participants agreed to remove language that directly equates Zionism with racism.

But the State Department said the Bush administration objected to a series of references to Israel and its policies as being racist.

Last week, President Bush warned that the United States would boycott the conference completely if the participants "picked on" Israel.

The Bush administration also objected to support for reparations for slavery as part of the conference agenda, but U.S. officials said that issue had been finessed.

• United Nations
• U.S. Department of State

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