Cablegate: Saudi-Proposed Unga Special Session On Religion


DE RUEHC #4376 1922256
P 102246Z JUL 08



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Action request: In response to reftel request by the
SYG for U.S. views on a possible UNGA Special Session on the
political and religious components of interfaith dialogue,
USUN should seek to signal encouragement of interfaith
dialogue and seek details of the make-up, agenda items, and
focus of the Saudi-proposed Special Session on religion. USUN
should communicate that while the United States strongly
supports interfaith dialogue, we believe such a dialogue
should be broadly inclusive, apolitical, and focused on
common values shared by faiths. The United States would not
support a special session that seeks to exclude any religious
or national groups, seeks to air political grievances, or
seeks to enact measures against free speech under the guise
of limiting religious defamation. USUN should urge the SYG to
postpone making a final decision until after the July 16-18
Interfaith Dialogue Conference in Spain and further
consultation with the United States and other Member States.
USUN should draw on the talking points and questions in
paragraphs 2 and 3 below.

2. (U) Talking Points:

-- The United States welcomes interfaith dialogue and
generally supports Saudi efforts to acknowledge shared values
between Islam and other religions throughout the world.

-- For such a dialogue to be effective it would need to focus
on common values shared by faiths and not become a forum for
political grievances.

-- We will be watching closely the July 16-18 Interfaith
Dialogue Conference in Spain, which is also part of the Saudi
effort to promote interfaith dialogue. This conference will
provide us with further context for assessing the value of
the Saudi proposal for an UNGA Special Session.

-- The U.S. has concerns, however, about the extent to which
an UNGA Special Session on the "political and religious
components of interfaith dialogue" would be constructive at
this time.

-- Our memory of the Durban Conference is vivid, and we are
concerned that without careful planning and consideration a
UN-hosted interfaith dialogue conference could degenerate
into a similar dynamic, embarrassing the United Nations and
individual member states and doing nothing to further mutual
respect, tolerance, and understanding.

-- For any event to have a positive result, it should be
fully inclusive of all faiths. The U.S. is concerned that
some may attempt to exclude from the event members of certain
religions, including subgroups and offshoots.

-- We are concerned, additionally, that the meeting could be
used as a platform for promoting the concept of "Defamation
of Religions," which the U.S. strongly opposes because of its
implications for restrictions on freedom of religion and
expression, as well as for the individual versus collective
rights of members of one religious group.

3. (U) Questions for use with the SYG or Secretariat staff:

-- Would the format of this event be an UNGA Special Session
in which all UN Member States and UN Observers would be able
to participate, or would there be a different format in which
others, such as representatives of religious groups and NGOs,
would also speak?

-- If the latter, would all faiths be included, including
those the Saudi government views as polytheistic (e.g., those
other than Islam, Judaism, and Christianity)? Further, within
each religion, would all religious groups be welcome,
including subgroups and offshoots (e.g. Bahais, Ahmadiyyas,
converts to religions irrespective of their original and new

-- Also, if the format is other than an UNGA Special Session,
would the event be sponsored by the UN? What UN resources
would be expended on it? Would the Saudis be willing to
follow the format of the 2004 Secretary-General Seminars on
"Unlearning Intolerance" that focused on anti-Semitism and
Islamophobia and were open to the public?

-- How would staffing for this work? UN personnel?

-- Also, if this is not an UNGA Special Session, who would
make the decision on whom to invite? Are there any thoughts
at this time about whom to invite? Will national delegations
be invited or simply religious leaders from a range of states
that do not necessarily speak on behalf of their governments?

-- What are the views of other member states? Is there
sufficient member state support for convening a Special

-- Will the conference address the role of textbooks and
other media in promoting or retarding the goal of tolerance?

-- What mechanisms and procedures could be used to ensure
that the discussion does not advocate for limitations on
freedom of speech and the press in the name of "defending

-- Are the Saudis open to holding the event after UNGA? Would
the Saudis be prepared to allow NGOs or other governments to
participate in organizing and planning of the conference?

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