The Trump 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-Is­rael bias.”

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

While the United States with­drew from the group, the Trump 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 di­rec­tor­gen­eral, 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 in­ter­na­tional 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 Unesco due to what was then a for­got­ten, 15year-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. Unesco 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, Bokova 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.”

In 2011, US stopped fund­ing Unesco due to a 15-year-old amend­ment man­dat­ing a com­plete cut­off of Amer­i­can fi­nanc­ing to any United Na­tions agency that ac­cepts Pales­tine as a full mem­ber

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