Saturday, 18 November, 2017

Why the US Has Such a Rocky Relationship With UNESCO

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington Wednesday US to Pull Out of UNESCO, Again
Sammy Stanley | 15 October, 2017, 00:58

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to leave UNESCO "brave" and "moral".

Netanyahu said Thursday that UNESCO has become a "theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it".

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave formal notification of the USA withdrawal on the grounds of "continuing anti-Israel bias" and "mounting arrears".

"This decision was not taken lightly", Heather Nauert, a spokesperson for the State Department, said in a statement.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects USA concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias", she said in a statement. Washington cited anti-Israel bias and the need for reform of the organization as the reason.

China will continue to actively participate in and support the work of UNESCO, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Friday.

Trump pulled United States out of UNESCO.

AIPAC gives thumbs up to Trump's withdraw from UNESCO.

President Ronald Reagan withdrew the USA from UNESCO in 1984 over alleged financial mismanagement and anti-U.S. bias in some of its policies, but joined again under President George W. Bush in 2002.

As a result of US funding cuts, USA arrears have been swelling each year, surpassing $500 million that's owed to UNESCO. But it does not necessarily foreshadow a further retrenchment of USA engagement with the United Nations, which the Trump administration has been pushing to bring about strutural and financial reforms. Tensions have flared again in recent years: in 2011, the United States stopped funding the agency after UNESCO voted to admit the Palestinian Authority as a full member; two years later, the U.S. lost its vote due to these financial cuts.

Amid the vote for new Director-General, UNESCO delayed the latest vote on a pair of anti-Israel resolutions on Wednesday, marking the first time no anti-Israel resolutions were passed at a UNESCO session since 2011.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a Thursday statement expressed "profound regret" at the country's decision to withdraw from UNESCO.

Currently, 23 places in the U.S. are on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, though nothing American appears in the organization's list of "intangible cultural heritage". Former President Ronald Reagan withdrew the U.S. from the organisation in 1984, and former President George W. Bush rejoined the cultural group in 2002. In May, Israel was infuriated by a resolution identifying Israel as "the occupying power" in the divided city of Jerusalem and calling on it to rescind any move changing the city's "character and status".

The withdrawal of the United States, which is meant to provide a fifth of UNESCO's funding, is a major blow for the Paris-based organisation, founded after World War Two to help protect cultural and natural heritage around the world.

What might have hastened this withdrawal decision was the July declaration of the ancient city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with its Tomb of the Patriarchs, as an endangered World Heritage Site.

The race for leadership position in the UN's cultural body came down to five candidates after a third round of voting on Wednesday, leaving former culture ministers France's Audrey Azoulay and Qatar's Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari as the frontrunners.

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