U.S. withdraws from U.N.’s cultural agency UNESCO

PARIS (Reuters) – The United States announced on Thursday it was withdrawing from UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural and educational agency, complaining about how it is run and about what Washington described as bias against Israel.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The withdrawal of the United States, which provides a fifth of UNESCO’s funding, is a severe blow for the Paris-based organization which began work in 1946 and is known for designating World Heritage sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park.

Under UNESCO rules, the withdrawal will become effective as of the end of December 2018. Until that time, the United States, which provides around $80 million to UNESCO annually, will remain a full member.

The organization, which employs around 2,000 people worldwide, most of them based in Paris, has long been the object of criticism over its use of resources and resolutions that have been perceived by Israel and other countries as biased.

Director-General Irina Bokova expressed disappointment at the U.S. decision.

“At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,” she said.

“This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism.”

Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, talks to journalists at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, France, October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

UNESCO is in the process of selecting a new chief, whose priority will be to revive its fortunes.

The U.S. move underscores the scepticism…

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