"The Obama administration will "with regret" boycott a U.N. conference on racism next week over objectionable language in the meeting's final document that could single out Israel for criticism and restrict free speech, the State Department said Saturday.
The decision follows weeks of furious internal debate and will likely please Israel and Jewish groups that lobbied against U.S. participation. But the move upset human rights advocates and some in the African-American community who hoped that President Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, would send an official delegation.
The administration had wanted to attend the April 20-25 meeting in Geneva, although it warned in late February it would not go unless significant changes were made to the draft text.
Some revisions — including the removal of specific critical references to Israel and problematic passages about the defamation of religion — were negotiated for which State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the administration was "deeply grateful."
But he said the text retains troubling elements that suggest support for restrictions on free speech and an affirmation of the findings of the first World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 that the U.S cannot endorse.
"Unfortunately, it now seems certain these remaining concerns will not be addressed in the document to be adopted by the conference next week," Wood said in a statement. "Therefore, with regret, the United States will not join the review conference."