US pulls out of Durban II but UK still going

How it was the first time round: demonstrators flood the streets at the opening of the 2001 Durban conference

How it was the first time round: demonstrators flood the streets at the opening of the 2001 Durban conference

America has pulled out of the United Nations Durban review conference on combating racism to be held in Geneva next month — but Britain will still participate.

The US State Department announced its decision last Friday after several days locked in talks about the draft final document, but ultimately admitted defeat, saying it had gone “from bad to worse”.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said: “The current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable.”

The decision has been welcomed by both the World and European Jewish Congress and the Jewish Human Rights Coalition in Britain.

The original Durban conference in 2001 turned into a diatribe against Israel and the US delegation’s aim was to try to swing the review’s final document away from a repeat of that position.

Britain, however, has decided so far that it will take part in the review, known as Durban II. The Foreign Office said that it “welcomed US interest in the Durban review conference and we have expressed similar concerns with the draft outcome document”.

Two weeks ago at the London Conference on Antisemitism, Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown said Britain’s participation depended on certain “red lines” not being crossed.

The Jewish Human Rights Coalition has reminded him of that in a letter signed by Board of Deputies’ president Henry Grunwald, who said that in informal sessions in January and February “it is clear that the crossing of red lines has already happened.

“In the light of this and the recent US government decision, we are seeking clarification on the current position of the UK government.”

The president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Ronald Lauder, welcomed the US Government decision.

“Every day it becomes clearer that the Durban Review Conference is not about combating racism, but about promoting anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda within the framework of the United Nations. The Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deserve praise for sending a strong warning signal to the UN.

“This conference should not be attended by the governments of democratic countries because it undermines the very purpose of the UN and does great damage to this important institution,” said Mr Lauder.

He called on other governments to stay away from the Geneva conference. “We hope that EU and other countries will follow the lead of Canada, Israel and the United States. It would be a travesty if the UN’s anti-racism conference were to become a platform for propagating hatred and intolerance. No government should take part in such a shameful event.”

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called on the EU to show strong leadership and also boycott Durban II.

He said: “Now is the time for EU leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to take the lead on issues of human rights and racism in the UN and to make a strong and clear stand against the Durban conference.”

    Last updated: 2:51pm, November 2 2010