US to pull out of UN agency over al­leged anti-Is­rael bias

Rome News-Tribune - - CLASSIFIEDS - By Matthew Lee and Thomas Adam­son As­so­ci­ated Press

PARIS — The United States said 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 need for “fun­da­men­tal re­form.”

While the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had been pre­par­ing for a likely with­drawal from UNESCO for months, the an­nounce­ment by the State Depart­ment on Thurs­day rocked the agency’s Paris head­quar­ters, where a heated elec­tion to choose a new chief is un­der­way.

The out­go­ing UNESCO di­rec­tor-gen­eral ex­pressed her “pro­found re­gret” at the de­ci­sion and tried to de­fend the rep­u­ta­tion of the U.N. Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion, best known for its World Her­itage pro­gram to pro­tect cul­tural sites and tra­di­tions.

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 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.”

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.”

“UNESCO has be­come a bat­tle­field for Is­rael bash­ing and has dis­re­garded its true role and pur­pose,” Danon said in a state­ment. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ab­surd and shame­ful res­o­lu­tions against Is­rael have con­se­quences.”

Sev­eral U.S. di­plo­mats who were to have been posted to UNESCO this sum­mer were told that their po­si­tions were on hold and ad­vised to seek other jobs. In ad­di­tion, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed bud­get for the next fis­cal year con­tains no pro­vi­sion for the pos­si­bil­ity that UNESCO fund­ing re­stric­tions might be lifted.

The lack of staffing and fund­ing plans for UNESCO by the U.S. have been ac­com­pa­nied by re­peated de­nun­ci­a­tions of UNESCO by se­nior U.S. of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing U.S. Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions Nikki Ha­ley. U.S. of­fi­cials said Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son made the de­ci­sion and that it was not dis­cussed with other coun­tries but was the re­sult of an in­ter­nal U.S. govern­ment de­lib­er­a­tion.

The of­fi­cials, who were not au­tho­rized to be pub­licly named dis­cussing the is­sue, said the U.S. is no­tably an­gry over UNESCO res­o­lu­tions deny­ing Jewish con­nec­tions to holy sites and ref­er­ences to Is­rael as an oc­cu­py­ing power.

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