WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would withdraw from Unesco, the United Nations cultural organization, after years of the United States distancing itself because of what it called the group’s “anti-Israel bias.”
The administration also cited mounting arrears at the organization as a reason for the decision.
“We were in arrears to the tune of $550 million or so, and so the question is, do we want to pay that money?” Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Thursday at a news briefing. She added, “With this anti-Israel bias that’s long documented on the part of Unesco, that needs to come to an end.”
While the United States withdrew from the group, the Trump administration said it wanted to continue providing American perspective and expertise to Unesco, but as a nonmember observer. The withdrawal goes into effect at the end of 2018, but that decision could be revisited, officials said.
If Unesco returns “to a place where they’re truly promoting culture and education on all of that, perhaps we could take another look at this,” Ms. Nauert said.
Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization popularly known for its designation of World Heritage sites, is a global development agency with missions that include promoting sex education, literacy, clean water and equality for women.
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In a lengthy written statement, Irina Bokova, Unesco’s director general, expressed regret at the decision and said that the American people shared the organization’s goals.
“Universality is critical to Unesco’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity,” she wrote.
In 2011, the United States stopped funding Unesco because of what was then a forgotten, 15-year-old amendment mandating a complete cutoff of American financing to any United Nations agency that accepts Palestine as a full member. Various efforts by President Barack Obama to overturn the legal restriction narrowly failed in Congress, and the United States lost its vote at the organization after two years of nonpayment, in 2013. Unesco was dependent on the United States for 22 percent of its budget, then about $70 million a year.
During the Cold War, the United States withdrew from the agency in 1984 because the Reagan administration deemed the organization too susceptible to Moscow’s influence and overly critical of Israel. President George W. Bush pledged in 2002 to rejoin the organization in part to show his willingness for international cooperation in the lead-up to the Iraq war.
Cultural organizations in the United States criticized the decision, saying Unesco played a key role in preserving vital cultural heritage worldwide.
“Although Unesco may be an imperfect organization, it has been an important leader and steadfast partner in this crucial work,” said Daniel H. Weiss, the president and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Ms. Bokova said she had repeatedly told members of Congress that immediate payment of the arrears was not an issue, only American political re-engagement in the organization, which she said she believed served many American interests abroad.
Ms. Bokova, in a telephone interview, said she “thought the decision was coming but why now, I don’t know, in the midst of elections” for a new director to succeed her.Read More...
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