UNESCO moves to readmit United States after its 2017 withdrawal

The US will be officially readmitted once Secretary of State Antony Blinken accepts the invitation to rejoin.

The US left the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] during the Trump administration due to claims that the organisation was biased against Israel [File: Francois Mori/AP Photo]

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has agreed to readmit the United States as a member.

UNESCO’s governing board voted 132-10 on Friday to accept the US proposal to rejoin the Paris-based agency. The North American country’s membership will become official once Secretary of State Antony Blinken, or a designee, formally accepts the invitation, according to White House officials.

Blinken said the vote would “restore US leadership on a host of issues of importance and value to the American people”.

“I am encouraged and grateful that today the membership accepted our proposal, which will allow the United States to take the next, formal steps toward fully rejoining the organisation,” he said in a statement.

Russian, Palestinian and North Korean representatives had held up consideration of the US proposal on Thursday with hours of procedural delays. That session was adjourned due to fatigue on the part of UNESCO interpreters.

In addition to Russia, North Korea and the Palestinians, those that voted against readmitting the US were Belarus, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Nicaragua and Syria.

The administration of US President Joe Biden had announced in early June that the US would apply to rejoin the organisation mainly because it was concerned that China was filling the gap left in its absence. The 193-member UNESCO plays a major role in setting international standards for artificial intelligence and technology education around the world.

The administration of former President Donald Trump announced in 2017 that the US would withdraw from UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias. That decision took effect a year later.

The US and Israel stopped financing UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011.

The Biden administration has requested $150m from the 2024 budget to go towards UNESCO dues and arrears. The plan foresees similar requests for the ensuing years until the full debt of $619m is paid off.

That makes up a big chunk of UNESCO’s $534m annual operating budget. Before leaving, the US contributed 22 percent of the agency’s overall funding.

Israel has long accused the United Nations of anti-Israel bias. In 2012, over Israeli objections, the state of Palestine was recognised as a nonmember observer state by the General Assembly.

Palestinians claim the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war — for an independent state. Israel says the Palestinians’ efforts to win recognition at the UN are aimed at circumventing a negotiated settlement and are meant as pressure for concessions.

The United States previously pulled out of UNESCO under Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. It rejoined in 2003 during George W Bush’s presidency.

Source: The Associated Press