U.S. to leave UNESCO, cit­ing ‘anti-Is­rael bias’

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Gar­diner Har­ris and Steven Erlanger NEW YORK TIMES

WASH­ING­TON – The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Thurs­day that it would with­draw from UNESCO, the U.N. cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tion, af­ter years of the United States dis­tanc­ing it­self be­cause of what it called the group’s “an­tiIs­rael bias.”

“This de­ci­sion was not taken lightly,” ac­cord­ing to a State Depart­ment state­ment 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, Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion said it wanted to con­tinue pro­vid­ing U.S. per­spec­tive and ex­per­tise to UNESCO, but as a non­mem­ber ob­server. The with­drawal goes into ef­fect at the end of 2018.

UNESCO, the U.N. Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion pop­u­larly 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 di­rec­tor-gen­eral, ex­pressed re­gret at the U.S. 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, 15-year-old amend­ment man­dat­ing a com­plete cut­off of U.S. fi­nanc­ing to any U.N. 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 or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter two years of non­pay­ment, in 2013. UNESCO was de­pen­dent on the United States for 22 per­cent of its bud­get, then about $70 mil­lion a year.

Since 2011, U.S. ar­rears to the or­ga­ni­za­tion have reached about $600 mil­lion, Bokova said, but she had told mem­bers of Con­gress re­peat­edly that im­me­di­ate pay­ment was not an is­sue, only U.S. po­lit­i­cal re-en­gage­ment in the or­ga­ni­za­tion, which she be­lieves serves many U.S. 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 it’s to­day,” she said. “It’s very, very re­gret­table.”

An­a­lysts said that ac­tu­ally with­draw­ing from the or­ga­ni­za­tion was a sig­nif­i­cant es­ca­la­tion by the United States in its crit­i­cism of U.N. bodies.

“This is an­other ex­am­ple of the Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­found am­biva­lence and con­cern about the way the U.N. is struc­tured and be­haves, and it shows the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to sep­a­rate it­self from its pre­de­ces­sors,” said Aaron David Miller, a for­mer Mid­dle East ne­go­tia­tor and ad­viser in Re­pub­li­can and Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions.

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