U.S., Is­rael set to exit U.N. agency over need for ‘re­form’

Houston Chronicle - - WORLD -

PARIS — The United States an­nounced Thurs­day it is pulling out of the U.N.’s ed­u­ca­tional, sci­en­tific and cul­tural agency be­cause of what Wash­ing­ton sees as its anti-Is­rael bias and a need for “fun­da­men­tal re­form” in the agency.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Is­rael plans to fol­low suit.

While the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had been pre­par­ing for a likely with­drawal from UNESCO, the tim­ing of the State De­part­ment’s state­ment was un­ex­pected. The agency’s board is in the midst of choos­ing a new chief — with Qatar’s Ha­mad bin Ab­du­laziz al-Kawari lead­ing the elec­tion head­ing into Fri­day’s fi­nal vote.

Out­go­ing Direc­torGen­eral Irina Bokova ex­pressed “pro­found re­gret” at the U.S. de­ci­sion and tried to de­fend UNESCO’s rep­u­ta­tion.

The agency is known for its World Her­itage pro­gram to pro­tect cul­tural sites, but also works to im­prove ed­u­ca­tion for girls, pro­mote un­der­stand­ing of the Holo­caust’s hor­rors, and to de­fend me­dia free­dom.

Bokova called the U.S.’ planned de­par­ture a loss for “the United Na­tions fam­ily” and for mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism.

The U.S. and UNESCO mat­ter to each other more than ever now with “the rise of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism,” Bokova said.

The U.S. stopped fund­ing UNESCO af­ter it voted to in­clude Pales­tine as a mem­ber state in 2011, but the State De­part­ment has sought to weigh in on pol­icy be­hind the scenes.

Nikki Ha­ley, U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, called UNESCO’s des­ig­na­tion of He­bron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Pa­tri­archs as Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory the lat­est of many “fool­ish ac­tions” that had made the agency “a chronic em­bar­rass­ment.”

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