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U.S. Withdraws From UNESCO

Oct 23, 2017

The United States has announced it will withdraw from UNESCO at the end of 2018. UNESCO is the Paris-based UN body whose mission is to coordinate international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication. A well-known part of its job is to help protect the world's important cultural and natural heritage sites through the World Heritage program.

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said the decision to withdraw from UNESCO came after a long and deliberative process. The decision was based on a number of concerns.

A general view of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters is seen at dusk in Paris, France
A general view of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters is seen at dusk in Paris, France

The United States is in arrears to UNESCO in the amount of almost $550 million dollars. That's because under federal legislation passed in the 1990's, the United States is required to stop sending funds to any UN agency that grants Palestinians recognition as a full member state. The fact is such a move disregards the necessity for negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis that will result in a Palestinian state making a real difference in the lives of both peoples. In 2011, UNESCO made such a move, and the United States, as legally required, cut off its funding to the organization

A second concern governing the U.S. decision to withdraw is the increasing politicization, including anti-Israel bias, at UNESCO. In July, for example, as the US Mission to the United Nations noted, UNESCO made its latest politically biased decision designating the Old City of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as part of Palestinian territory. Such an action is an outrageous attempt to separate Israel and the Jews from their history of thousands of years.

Finally, Spokesperson Nauert cited the need for fundamental reform at UNESCO, as President Donald Trump has called for across the United Nations.

She added, however, that the United States wants to remain engaged with UNESCO and will seek to become a non-member observer state, “in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization.”

The decision to withdraw will also not alter U.S. policy supporting international cooperation in educational, scientific, cultural, communication and information activities where there are benefits to the United States.