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U.S. Withdraws From UNESCO, the UN’s Cultural Organization

  • FILE - In this Monday Oct. 17, 2016 file picture, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization logo is pictured on the entrance at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris. U.S. officials have told The Associated Press that the United States is pulling out of UNESCO, after repeated criticism of resolutions by the U.N. cultural agency that Washington sees as anti-Israel. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

  • U.S. Charge d'Affaires to the UNESCO Chris Hegadorn speaks to the Associated-Press during an interview at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. The United States is pulling out of UNESCO because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for "fundamental reform" of the U.N. cultural agency. (AP Photo/Masha Macpherson)

  • Demonstrators hold placards as they stage a protest against Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari Qatar's candidate of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization new leader outside the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. UNESCO's executive board is choosing a new leader to replace departing director Irina Bokova, whose tenure was marred by funding troubles and tension over its inclusion of Palestine as a member. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

  • Demonstrators hold placards as they stage a protest against Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari Qatar's candidate for the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization new leader outside the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. UNESCO's executive board is choosing a new leader to replace departing director Irina Bokova, whose tenure was marred by funding troubles and tension over its inclusion of Palestine as a member. Placard reads, "we do not negotiate with the terrorist". (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

  • Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, Qatar's candidate for the election of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization new leader, smiles at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. UNESCO's executive board is choosing a new leader to replace departing director Irina Bokova, whose tenure was marred by funding troubles and tension over its inclusion of Palestine as a member. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

  • Delegates meet to behind close door to choose the new UNESCO chief at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. The United States is pulling out of UNESCO because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for "fundamental reform" of the U.N. cultural agency. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)



The Washington Post
Friday, October 13, 2017

The United States will withdraw from UNESCO at the end of next year, the State Department said on Thursday, in order to stop accumulating unpaid dues and make a stand on what it said is anti-Israel bias at the U.N.’s educational, science and cultural organization.

In notifying UNESCO of the decision on Thursday morning, the State Department said it would like to remain involved as a nonmember observer state. That will allow the United States to remain engaged in debates and activities, though it will lose its right to vote on issues.

The withdrawal of the United States, which was a founding member of the organization after World War II, deals a symbolic blow. But it does not necessarily foreshadow a further retrenchment of U.S. engagement with the United Nations, which the Trump administration has been pushing to bring about structural and financial reforms.

“This is pragmatic, not a grander political signal,” said John McArthur, a fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution and an adviser to the UN Foundation.

The most immediate impact is that the U.S. will halt the arrears it has run up since it stopped funding the organization in 2011 to protest admitting Palestine as a full member. By the end of this calendar year, the unpaid U.S. bill will amount to $550 million. With no sign that U.S. concerns would be addressed, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decided to pull out after Dec. 31, when the unpaid balance will top $600 million.

State Department officials said they hope the withdrawal will help push UNESCO to make changes that would satisfy Washington so the U.S. can resume full membership.

“It sends a strong message that we need to see fundamental reform in the organization, and it raises everyone’s awareness about continued anti-Israel bias,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity under department ground rules.

The United States helped found the United Nations Educational, Scientific Cultural Organization, but has been at odds with the organization in recent years. State Department officials cited a 2012 decision not to expel Syria from its human rights committee after the civil war in that country began, and repeated resolutions that refer to Israel as an occupying power.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the last straw was when UNESCO this summer designated the old city of Hebron in the West Bank, with its Tomb of the Patriarchs, a Palestinian World Heritage site.