U.S. to Participate in Preparations for Durban II Meeting

Move comes despite concerns in J'lem that summit will be used to bash Israel.

The United States is planning to send a delegation to the preparatory session of the Durban II Conference, in spite of strong Israeli pressure to abstain because of concerns that the meeting, which deals with racism, will be used as a forum for scathing and anti-Semitic attacks on Israel.

The decision of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to participate in the planning of the conference -- organized by the Human Rights Council, a United Nations body based in Geneva -- is the first signal of a change from the Bush administration's policy of boycotting the conference.

State Department officials said that participation in preparing the conference does not necessarily mean the U.S. will in the end participate in Durban II, the second UN-sponsored international conference against racism.

The conference will take place in April, and several countries, including Israel, have already said they would boycott the meeting.

A statement released by the State Department said the American delegation would review the "current direction of conference preparations and whether U.S. participation in the conference itself is warranted.

"This will be the first opportunity the [Obama] administration has had to engage in the negotiations for the Durban Review, and -- in line with our commitment to diplomacy -- the U.S. has decided to send a delegation to engage in the negotiations on the text of the conference document," the department said.

The State Department stressed that, "The intent of our participation is to work to try to change the direction in which the review conference is heading. We hope to work with other countries that want the Conference to responsibly and productively address racism around the world."

A political source in Jerusalem said Israel would continue its efforts to convince the U.S. not to participate in the conference, but still expressed pessimism, saying the State Department's emphasis on attending the planning meetings is an indication that "the United States will participate in April in the World Conference Against Racism itself."

There are concerns in Jerusalem that the efforts of the 2001 conference to equate Zionism with racism will resurface. At the time, the U.S. and Israel walked out of the conference in protest.