The Obama administration said late Saturday that it would participate in planning for a U.N. conference on racism despite concerns the meeting will be used by Arab nations and others to criticize Israel.
The U.S. will decide later whether to participate in the conference.
The State Department said it would send diplomats next week to participate in preparatory meetings for the World Conference Against Racism, which is set to be held in Geneva, Switzerland in April and which some countries including Israel have already decided to boycott.
During the Bush administration the United States and Israel walked out of the first U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 over efforts to pass a resolution comparing Zionism — the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state — to racism.
Those efforts failed but there are signs the resolution may be reintroduced at the so-called "Durban 2" meeting in Geneva and Israel has been actively lobbying the United States and European countries to stay away from this year's meeting.
Trying to change direction
In a statement released late Saturday, the State Department said the U.S. delegation to the planning discussions would review "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 intent of our participation is to work to try to change the direction in which the review conference is heading," it said. "We hope to work with other countries that want the Conference to responsibly and productively address racism around the world."
The statement stressed that U.S. attendance at the planning meetings "does not indicate — and should not be misconstrued to indicate — that the United States will participate in April in the World Conference Against Racism itself."
"Nor does it indicate that we will necessarily participate in future preparations for the conference," it said. "These decisions will be taken at a later date, depending on the results that we see from the negotiating process."
Israel presses Obama team
Israel, which announced in November that it would boycott the conference, has been pressing the new Obama foreign policy team to stay away from the meeting, according to U.S. officials.
The Bush administration had left a decision on whether to attend to the next administration, but voted in the U.N. General Assembly last year to protest the conference.
Canada has already said it will not participate, maintaining the meeting will promote racism and not combat it.