EU threatens to boycott Durban II if used as anti-Israel forum
Italy has said it would follow U.S. and skip summit unless radical changes made to draft bashing Israel.
The European Union said Monday it could boycott a United Nations conference on racism next month unless Muslim nations end attempts to strongly criticize Israel in the meeting's final document.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the EU presidency, said EU nations were very skeptical over the direction of negotiations on a declaration being drafted for the so-called Durban II conference. He adds the 27-nation bloc will attempt to push for changes but there is a strong call to withdraw if they are not successful.
Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said earlier this month his country would not attend the April 20-25 meeting in Geneva unless radical changes were made to the draft text, which includes what he has called aggressive and anti-Semitic statements.
United States, Canada and Israel have also said they fear the UN talks will be marred by attempts to attack Israel and shield Islamic countries from criticism over their records. Washington has imposed conditions similar to EU nations' and Israel and Canada have already announced they will boycott.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned the Geneva meeting might be abused to produce one-sided statements about the Middle East peace process and European and American policy in the Muslim and Arab world.
"I am in favor of canceling participation in the conference, unless the documents are changed substantially within the next hours and days," said Steinmeier.
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said a draft backed by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference limits itself to Israel-bashing, anti-Semitism, limiting freedom of speech and other dubious texts.
The Islamic group of countries, many angry over cartoons and films attacking Muslims, has been campaigning for wording that would equate criticism of a religious faith with a violation of human rights.
"They were also pushing to equate Zionism with racism and banning the possibility of anyone to change his or her religion," Verhagen said.
The Geneva talks are meant to review progress in fighting racism since the previous summit in South Africa. That meeting was marred by harsh criticism of Israel and anti-Israel demonstrations at a parallel conference of non-governmental organizations.