U.S. says it will leave U.N. cul­tural agency

Cites anti-is­rael bias; Ne­tanyahu hails move

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - WORLD - By Matthew Lee and Thomas Adam­son The As­so­ci­ated Press

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 for months, the tim­ing of the State Depart­ment’s state­ment was un­ex­pected. The Paris-based agency’s ex­ec­u­tive board is choos­ing a new chief — with Qatar’s Ha­mad bin Ab­du­laziz al-kawari lead­ing the heated elec­tion head­ing into Fri­day’s fi­nal vote.

Out­go­ing Di­rec­tor-gen­eral Irina Bokova ex­pressed “pro­found re­gret” at the U.S. de­ci­sion and tried to de­fend UNESCO’S rep­u­ta­tion. The or­ga­ni­za­tion is best known for its World Her­itage pro­gram to pro­tect cul­tural sites and tra­di­tions, but it also works to im­prove ed­u­ca­tion for girls, pro­mote un­der­stand­ing of the Holo­caust’s hor­rors and de­fend me­dia free­dom.

Bokova called the 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,” she said.

The U.S. stopped fund­ing UNESCO af­ter it voted to in­clude Pales­tine as a mem­ber state in 2011, but the State Depart­ment has main­tained a UNESCO of­fice and sought to weigh in on pol­icy be­hind the scenes. The U.S. now owes about $550 mil­lion in back pay­ments.

In a state­ment, the State Depart­ment said the de­ci­sion will take ef­fect Dec. 31, 2018, and that the U.S. will seek a “per­ma­nent ob­server” sta­tus in­stead. It cited U.S. be­lief in “the need for fun­da­men­tal re­form in the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Ne­tanyahu said Thurs­day that Is­rael also plans to with­draw from the agency, say­ing it had be­come a “the­ater of the ab­surd be­cause in­stead of pre­serv­ing his­tory, it dis­torts it.”

Is­rael has been irked by res­o­lu­tions that di­min­ish its his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tion to the Holy Land and have named an­cient Jewish sites as Pales­tinian her­itage sites.

Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, Danny Danon, praised Wash­ing­ton’s move as herald­ing “a new day at the U.N., where there is a price to pay for dis­crim­i­na­tion against Is­rael.”

U.S. of­fi­cials said Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son made the de­ci­sion and it was not dis­cussed with other coun­tries.

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