U.S. and Israel to withdraw from UNESCO

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

For President Trump and for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the recognition of world heritage sites in the Palestinian territories, like Hebron and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the 2015 resolution and another in 2016, showed an anti-Israel bias.

While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the timing of the State Department's statement Thursday was unexpected.

The outgoing head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, called the U.S. withdrawal a "loss to multilateralism", while UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said through a spokesman that he "regrets this development deeply".

She called the US departure a loss for "the United Nations family" and for multilateralism, saying the USA and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now to better fight "the rise of violent extremism and terrorism".

President George W. Bush announced America's return in 2002, but relations soured again in 2011 when Washington pulled the plug on funding to the body after its members voted to admit Palestine as a full member. The U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.

Yet, the US State Department announced today (Oct. 12) that the United States would withdraw from UNESCO membership. It cited USA belief in "the need for fundamental reform in the organization". Israel has accused UNESCO of making a politically motivated move, part of what it says is an attempt to deny the Jewish character and heritage of certain key sites in the Holy Land. Under the Reagan Administration, the USA quit UNESCO in 1984, at the time accusing the agency of a pro- Soviet Union bias.

USA officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and it was not discussed with other countries.

Citing lines in UNESCO's 1945 Constitution by US Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish - "since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed" ¬- she said this vision has never been more relevant, and added that the US helped inspire the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

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And senior Trump administration officials - including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley - have been critical of the organization.

Analysts said that actually withdrawing from the organization was a significant escalation by the United States in its criticism of United Nations bodies.

Unesco is best known for its World Heritage programme to protect cultural sites and traditions around the world.

"The partnership between UNESCO and the United States has been deep, because it has drawn on shared values", Bokova stressed.

Michael Worbs, chairman of the UNESCO Executive Board, appreciated the Vietnamese' notable jump in the second round.

Trump pulled USA out of UNESCO. The U.S. rejoined it in 2003.

Trump is not the first US President to withdraw support from UNESCO.

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