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U.S. Likely to Attend U.N. Session Despite Concerns over Abortion

By Alan Sipress
THE WASHINGTON POST -- The Bush administration expects to send a high-level delegation to a special U.N. General Assembly session on children next month despite continuing concerns that the final declaration will endorse abortion services and counseling, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday.

“We look forward to attending this conference at a high level. We’re making the preparations now. We’re working on the document, on the language. And we’re working on finalizing our delegation,” Boucher said.

A senior State Department official said later that Secretary of State Colin Powell likely would not attend but that Education Secretary Roderick Paige or Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson could be tapped.

Boucher’s remarks came after the State Department said Monday the United States might not send high-level representatives to the three-day session in New York because the draft declaration contains the phrase “reproductive health services,” which is understood by diplomats to include abortion.

In talking points provided two months ago to U.S. diplomats, the State Department said flatly that a high-level team would not attend the special session unless the United States won changes in the wording of the final statement to “endorse only language that is clear and unambiguous on the issue of abortion.”

U.S. diplomats in some foreign posts were instructed to tell their host governments that the United States had considerable interest in the special session and would like to “participate at a high level.” According to the talking points, they were told to deliver the message: “Such participation will not be possible, however, if language that could be construed to support abortion remains in the outcome document. Therefore, the U.S. requests that your delegation in New York support the United States in removing and rephrasing this language.”

The administration’s warning that it might downgrade its representation to the session came at the same time the United States has been weighing whether to boycott another U.N. event, the conference on racism opening Friday in Durban, South Africa. Powell has chosen not to attend the racism conference because of anti-Israel statements included in the draft declaration, but the State Department said no decision has been made about who will represent the United States.

Boucher sought Tuesday to distinguish the administration’s handling of the racism conference from that of the special session on children, which starts Sept. 19.

“I would look at this as a more normal preparation for a U.N. conference, where we’re getting together work on the language, we’re getting together work on the delegation, we’re pinning things down as we approach the time of the conference itself,” he said. “We’ve been working on this, and we’ve been working on being represented at this conference at a high level, including at Cabinet level, for weeks and months now.”

U.N. organizers say 75 heads of state and government have confirmed they will attend the session, which is meant to promote education, health care, better sanitation and safer living conditions for children.