US, Israel pulling out of Unesco
PARIS – The United States and its ally Israel said Thursday they were pulling out of the United Nations’ culture and education body, in a move that underlined Washington’s drift away from international institutions.
The US decision, announced in Washington, follows years of tension at the organization which it accused of having an “anti-Israel bias.”
“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 anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
The United States has walked out of the 195-member organization once before under ex-president Ronald Reagan, who quit in 1984 over alleged financial mismanagement and claims of anti-US bias in some of its policies.
President George W. Bush announced America’s return in 2002, but relations soured again in 2011 when Barack Obama pulled the plug on funding to the body after its members voted to admit Palestine as a full member.
Washington opposes any move by UN bodies to recognize the Palestinian territories as a state, believing this must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.
But President Donald Trump’s administration is also reviewing many of its multilateral commitments, pursuing what he calls an “America First” policy that has allies in Europe worried.
“UNESCO is about promoting our ideals and values through culture, education and science,” France’s UN ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters in New York, adding that “we need an America that stays committed to world affairs.”
But Nauert said that the cost to the United States of remaining a member had also influenced the decision.
“As many of you know, we were in arrears to the tune of $550 million or so. And so the question is, you know, do we want to pay that money? And do we want to pay more money going forward,” she said.
Nauert noted that there is a US law which forbids the government to pay membership dues to any organization that recognizes Palestinian statehood.
“So that’s part of it, financially, OK? Second part of it is we’d like to see overall UN reform,” she added.
In a statement announcing its own withdrawal, Israel called the Trump administration’s decision “courageous and moral,” accusing the UN body of becoming a “theater of the absurd” after a series of resolutions condemning the Jewish state.