The United States plans to boycott the United Nations global conference on racism in August if it becomes clear that the Zionism-is-racism issue will come up for debate.
"We're trying to maintain the position that the UN can be helpful and solve problems, and we don't want that to get off track," said a State Department official who is working on the U.S. role at the World Conference Against Racism.
"If it really appears this is going to be a train wreck, we'll get off the rails rather than get run over."
But the Canadian government said yesterday that, while it would oppose any effort to revive the incendiary issue, it will attend the UN gathering regardless.
In one of the UN's most troubled hours, a resolution that "condemned Zionism as a threat to world peace and security" and "a form of racism and racial discrimination" was passed 75 votes to 35 by the General Assembly in 1975. The resolution was repealed in 1991 and has been largely absent from state-level discussion since.
But recent fighting in the Middle East, which has claimed the lives of about 360 Palestinians and 65 Israelis, has rekindled support for the resolution, particularly from Arab and Islamic nations.
The United States is determined not to see it on the agenda.
"The world conference has to do with a worldwide phenomenon, not with individual country situations, and we will resist with all of the strength and diplomacy and all the parliamentary abilities we have, the injecting of a country-specific situation," the official said.
"There have been two previous world conferences on racism [in 1978 and 1983] and we didn't go to those because they were about Zionism being a form of racism and about the apartheid regime in South Africa, exclusively. They were country-specific polemic-fests, that's what they were foreseen to be and what they turned out to be."
He said he hoped that diplomatic moves would quell the matter between now and August.
"We would like to [attend], we believe it's important, and racism is clearly something with which the U.S. has a long history of struggle and at least some success, and we think that we have some things to offer," he said.
"But we're not going to get suckered into a situation where there's a document we'd have to vote against. I'm not going to tell [Secretary of State] Colin Powell it's worth his time if it's going to degenerate."
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said Canada would attend the conference even if it was clear that the Zionism issue would be introduced for debate.
"We don't have a tradition of boycotting anything," said François Lasalle. "We believe engagement is the correct policy, and we feel our efforts in this situation would be much better served by us being there to oppose [any such resolution].
"We oppose any efforts to reintroduce the Zionism-is-racism debate in any UN forum or other forum where we are present.
"We feel the issue has no place in the work of the conference and we think the conference should be focused on setting the foundations for what we call a global commitment to eradicating racism and racial discrimination."
The conference in Durban, South Africa, is expected to draw senior officials from most of the world's governments as well as hundreds of representatives of NGOs, who will attend parallel meetings.
The Canadian government has held a series of community consultation meetings to prepare its platform for the conference.
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