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U.S. stays away from racism summit

Associated Press

The United Nations will open its first global racism conference in eight years today with the United States and at least seven other countries boycotting the event out of concern that Muslim countries plan to demand that it denounce Israel and bar criticism of Islam.

The administration of President Obama, America’s first African American head of state, announced Saturday that it would boycott “with regret” the weeklong meeting in Geneva, which already is experiencing much of the bickering and political infighting that marred the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa.

The Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand announced their boycotts Sunday and early today, and Australia, Canada, Israel and Italy had said they would not participate.

Speaking Sunday at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Obama said, “I would love to be involved in a useful conference that addressed continuing issues of racism and discrimination around the globe.”

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But he said the language of the U.N.'s draft declaration risked a reprise of Durban, during which “folks expressed antagonism toward Israel in ways that were often times completely hypocritical and counterproductive.”

“We expressed in the run-up to this conference our concerns that if you adopted all of the language from 2001, that’s not something we can sign up for,” Obama said.

The major sticking points regarding the proposed final United Nations declaration are its implied criticism of Israel and an attempt by Muslim governments to ban all criticism of Islam, Sharia law, the prophet Muhammad and other tenets of their faith.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is slated to speak on the first day.

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