U.S. withdraws from UNESCO

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington Wednesday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the United States decision as "brave and moral" in a statement.

"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", the statement said.

The agency's board members are set to vote this week to elect a new director-general, with candidates from Qatar, France and Egypt in a three-way race for the position.

UNESCO was once a low-profile United Nations agency best known for producing a list of World Heritage sites such as the Grand Canyon or Cambodia's Angkor Wat, as well as running science, media and cultural programmes internationally.

Unesco director-general Irina Bokova, who is Bulgarian, expressed "profound regret" at the decision and said the departure was a loss for "the United Nations family" and for multilateralism.

Since 2011, United States arrears to the organization have reached about $600 million, Ms. Bokova said, but she had told members of Congress repeatedly that immediate payment was not an issue, only American political re-engagement in the organization, which she believes serves many American interests overseas. The U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.

Washington's withdrawal is set to take effect on December 21, 2018, when it will establish an "observer mission" to replace its representation at the agency. It cited US belief in "the need for fundamental reform in the organization". He said UNESCO had "turned into a theatre of the absurd; instead of preserving history, it twists it". And in 2015, Unesco adopted a resolution that criticized Israel for mishandling heritage sites in Jerusalem and condemned "Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against freedom of worship".


"UNESCO has become a battlefield for Israel bashing and has disregarded its true role and goal", Danon said. Permanent Representative to the UN Nikki Haley has repeatedly denounced these actions, and said the US was "evaluating" whether or not it should continue as a member of the organization.

In 2011, the United States stopped funding Unesco due to what was then a forgotten, 15-year-old amendment mandating a complete cutoff of American financing to any United Nations agency that accepts Palestine as a full member.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel plans to pull out of the United Nations' cultural agency following the "brave and moral" decision by the United States to withdraw from UNESCO.

The Israel controversy re-ignited this summer after UNESCO named Hebron's city center a Palestinian World Heritage Site.

Travelers are likely to be most familiar with Unesco through its world heritage sites such as the Grand Canyon National Park and Yellowstone National Park in the US. With no funds forthcoming, the USA lost its vote in the agency in 2013.

The US pulled out of Unesco in the 1980s because Washington viewed it as mismanaged and used for political reasons, then rejoined it in 2003.

In the statement, Netanyahu hailed the USA move as a "courageous and moral decision".

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