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The United States will withdraw from UNESCO, the United Nations agency focused on education, science and culture, at the end of next year, after years of the United States distancing itself because of what it called the group’s “anti-Israel bias.”State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert announced Thursday morning.

The withdrawal follows long-standing issues the U.S. has had with UNESCO and does not necessarily foreshadow a further retrenchment of U.S. engagement with the United Nations, where the Trump administration has been pushing to bring about structural and financial reforms.

  • UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), a special agency of the UN which is based in Paris was setup with the purpose to contribute to Peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.
  • UNESCO is best known for designating World Heritage Sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park.


  • In recent years, Israel has repeatedly complained about what it says is the body taking sides in disputes over cultural heritage sites in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.
  • In July, UNESCO declared the ancient and hotly contested core of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as a Palestinian World Heritage site in danger, a decision sharply criticized by Israel and its allies.
  • 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.”


  • Although the U.S. played a role in UNESCO’s founding after World War II, it has not always been a member.
  • President Ronald Reagan pulled the U.S. from the Paris-based organization in 1984 over complaints that UNESCO had a pro-Soviet Union, anti-Western bias. President George W. Bush brought the U.S. back into the organization in 2002.
  • In 2011, the United States stopped funding UNESCO because of 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.
  • Various efforts by President Barack Obama to overturn the legal restriction narrowly failed in Congress, and the United States lost its vote at the organization after two years of nonpayment, in 2013. UNESCO was dependent on the United States for 22 percent of its budget, then about $70 million a year.


  • US CULTURAL ORGANISATIONS– Cultural organizations in the United States criticized the decision, saying UNESCO played a key role in preserving vital cultural heritage worldwide.
  • TRUMP ADMINISTRATION– The Trump administration said it wanted to continue providing American perspective and expertise to UNESCO, but as a nonmember observer. The withdrawal goes into effect at the end of 2018, but that decision could be revisited, officials said.
  • ISREAL STATEMENT– In a statement announcing its withdrawal, Israel called the US administration’s decision “courageous and moral”, and accused UNESCO of becoming a “theatre of the absurd”.
  • UNESCO’s STATEMENT– Irina Bokova, the outgoing UNESCO head, called the US withdrawal a “loss to multilateralism”, “UNESCO has never been so important for the US, or the US for UNESCO”.

The Trump administration has been preparing for a withdrawal for months, and a decision was expected before the end of the year, according to US officials. Several diplomats who were to have been posted to the mission this summer were told that their positions were on hold and advised to seek other jobs.

In addition, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year contains no provision for the possibility that UNESCO funding restrictions might be lifted.

The lack of staffing and funding plans for UNESCO by the US have been accompanied by repeated denunciations of UNESCO by senior US officials, including the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

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