US quits UNESCO, says group is anti-Is­rael

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA -

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.

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