- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2012

Despite pressure from activist groups, President Obama will not attend the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington next week — the first such meeting in the U.S. in 22 years.

The White House said Monday that Mr. Obama will tape a short video message for the conference and host a reception at the White House “to honor those living with HIV.”

Activists had been urging the president to attend to show his support. But before the White House made the announcement, some AIDS activists said the president might as well not bother to show up at the gathering, which is expected to draw about 20,000 people to the Washington Convention Center from July 22 to July 27.

“The president’s failure at this late date to commit to attending the conference unfortunately speaks volumes about this administration’s commitment to the AIDS epidemic,” said Tom Myers, general counsel of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, in a conference call. “This commitment has been lukewarm at best.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and others will represent the Obama administration. Former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Laura Bush are also scheduled to speak at the meeting. It’s the first time the conference has taken place in the U.S. since 1990.

Mr. Obama’s proposed 2013 budget would cut the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was initiated by Republican President George W. Bush.

But the White House said it is still committed to combating HIV/AIDS.

“Under the president’s leadership, the administration has increased overall funding to combat HIV/AIDS to record levels,” the White House said. “We have launched the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States to prevent and treat HIV in America. Globally, the Obama administration has committed to treating 6 million people by the end of 2013 and is increasing the impact and sustainability of our investments.”