US quits UNESCO, says group is anti-Israel
PARIS — The United States announced on Thursday that it was withdrawing from UNESCO, the UN’s cultural and educational agency, complaining about how it is run and about what Washington described as bias against Israel.
“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing antiIsrael bias,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the US decision as “brave and moral”, a statement said. Netanyahu later tweeted that he had ordered his foreign ministry to “prepare Israel’s withdrawal... in parallel with the United States”.
The withdrawal of the US, which should provide a fifth of UNESCO’s funding, is a severe blow for the Paris-based organization, which employs about 2,000 people worldwide, most of them based in Paris.
Under UNESCO rules, the withdrawal will become effective on Dec 31, 2018. Until that time, the US will remain a full member.
The US would seek to “remain engaged with UNESCO as a non-member observer state”, the statement said.
Director-General Irina Bokova expressed disappointment at the US decision.
“At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency,” she said.
“This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism.”
The US move underscores the skepticism expressed by President Donald Trump about the need for the US to remain engaged in multilateral bodies. The president has touted an “America First” policy, which puts US economic and nationalist interests ahead of international commitments.
Since Trump took office, the US has withdrawn from the Paris climate deal. He has also called NATO obsolete, though he has since backtracked on that.
Diplomats expressed concern about the loss of US engagement.
“The absence of the United States or any large country with a lot of power is a loss. It’s not just about money, it’s promoting ideals that are vital to countries like the United States, such as education and culture,” a UNESCO-based diplomat said. Nevertheless, Shen Yubiao, a director from national commission of China for UNESCO, said the effect of the US move is limited.
“I don’t think US sites will be eliminated from the World Heritage site list, for example,” he said. “Due to current international order, the interests in relevant fields held by the US will not be influenced.”
The US has not paid membership fees for UNESCO since 2011. It now owes about $550 million in back payments. Wang Kaihao in Beijing contributed to this story.