The US State Department announced Thursday that the United States would withdraw from UNESCO following disagreements over its policies and its attitude toward Israel. US seeks to establish a permanent observer mission to UNESCO.
“This decision was not taken lightly and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” the State Department said, adding that the United States desire to remain “engaged with UNESCO as a non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education.”
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U.S. withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018.
UNESCO expressed “deep sorrow” over the decision.
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“After I received the official announcement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, I deeply regret the United States’ decision to withdraw from UNESCO,” director-general Irina Bokova said, adding that it was a great loss to the UN family. “This is not just about World Heritage,” she said, describing the withdrawal as “a loss to both the organization and the US.”
The American announcement was published in the week in which the organization chooses a new secretary-general to replace Bokova.
The United States suspended funding for the UN organization following the Palestinian Authority’s acceptance as a member of the organization in 2011. According to AP, the organization owes $550 million.
US Several senior US officials, including UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, have repeatedly condemned the organization for its anti-Israel resolutions.
In July, UNESCO declared the Old City of Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site, saying that the United States would review relations with the organization and that the decision was “an insult to history and further damaging the credibility of the organization.” Hailey added that “the vote on the decision does not benefit anyone but only causes damage.”
The last time the US decided to quit was the administration of former President Ronald Reagan, who accused the organization of corruption and political bias in favor of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, and President George W. Bush returned the power to the organization in 2002, saying that the organization’s membership had moderated in their attitude toward the West and toward Israel.
Israel plans to follow US in exiting UNESCO
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday night Israel plans to pull out of the United Nations’ cultural agency following the “brave and moral” decision by the United States to withdraw from UNESCO.