The Republican Jewish Coalition today called on President Obama to end the guessing game about whether the administration will follow through on its pledge not to participate in the United Nations' controversial World Conference Against Racism next week in Geneva.
"This is very disturbing news for American Jews and others who support Israel, since it raises the prospect that the Obama administration will renege on its previous commitment to boycott this conference," they wrote in a statement.
"Durban II is a follow-up to the original Durban conference of 2001, and is expected to be a venue for the same kind of anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, and anti-Western tirades that led President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to withdraw the U.S. from the first conference," they added.
"We urge President Obama to act quickly and unambiguously: End this guessing game and affirm the pledge he made to be resolute in opposition to anti-Semitism in the international arena by issuing a clear, principled, and final statement that the United States will not participate in this dangerous and discredited conference".
On Tuesday, the United States held out the chance of attending the conference 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.
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