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US withdraws from Unesco, cites bias against Israel

Withdrawal goes into effect at the end of 2018

Gardiner Harris & Steven Erlanger | NYT  |  Washington 

Unesco, UNESCO

The administration announced on Thursday that it would withdraw from Unesco, the United Nations cultural organisation, after years of America distancing itself because of what it called the group’s “anti-bias.”

“This decision was not taken lightly,” according to a State Department statement on Thursday. In addition to anti-bias, the department cited “the need for fundamental reform” and “mounting arrears” at the organization.
While the United States withdrew from the group, the 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.

Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 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.

In a lengthy written statement, Irina Bokova, Unesco’s director-general, expressed regret at the American withdrawal and said that the American people shared the organization’s goals.

“Universality is critical to Unesco’s mission to strengthen 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 due to 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 organisation after two years of nonpayment, in 2013. was dependent on the United States for 22 per cent of its budget, then about $70 million a year.

Since 2011, United States arrears to the organisation have reached about $600 million, said, but she had told members of Congress repeatedly that immediate payment was not an issue, only American political re-engagement in the organisation, which she believes serves many American interests abroad. 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 replace her. “It’s very weird that’s it today,” she said. “It’s very, very regrettable.”

and were running neck-and-neck in the race to lead the cultural body after a third round of voting Wednesday whittled the field down to five. Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari of and Audrey Azoulay of — both former culture ministers — had 18 votes apiece in the battle to replace

Behind them in the secret ballot was an Egyptian career diplomat, Moushira Khattab, with 13 votes, and Tang Qian of with five, according to results posted on Unesco’s website.

©2017 The New York Times News Service

First Published: Fri, October 13 2017. 01:44 IST