The U.S. reenters UNESCO, repays dues, to counter China’s influence

The choice represents a significant monetary uplift for the United Nations agency, renowned for its World Heritage initiative as well as endeavors aimed at combatting climate change and promoting girls’ literacy.

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( By Associated Press) On Monday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) made an announcement stating that the United States intends to rejoin the organization after a prolonged dispute spanning a decade. As part of this decision, the U.S. plans to fulfill its financial obligations by paying over $600 million in outstanding dues. The initial disagreement arose from UNESCO’s inclusion of Palestine as a member, which led the U.S. to withdraw its membership.

U.S. officials have cited concerns about China’s increasing influence in UNESCO’s policymaking as a key factor behind their decision to rejoin. Specifically, they are apprehensive about China’s growing role in establishing global standards for artificial intelligence and technology education.

To formalize the return, Richard Verma, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, submitted a letter last week to UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay, outlining the United States’ plan to rejoin the organization.

Azoulay’s announcement of the plan in the UNESCO auditorium was met with enthusiastic applause, as ambassadors gathered for a special meeting on Monday. Delegate after delegate stood up to welcome the news, recognizing the positive impact it would have on the organization’s finances. The return of the United States, once the agency’s largest funder, is scheduled to undergo a vote by the 193 member states next month, as confirmed by a UNESCO diplomat.

This decision represents a significant financial boost for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO is renowned for its World Heritage program, as well as its initiatives to combat climate change and promote girls’ education.

Following UNESCO’s 2011 vote to include Palestine as a member state, both the United States and Israel ceased their funding to the organization, leading to the loss of their voting rights in 2013. Subsequently, the Trump administration decided to completely withdraw from UNESCO in 2018, citing concerns over anti-Israel bias and management issues.

In a recent letter, Verma acknowledged UNESCO’s efforts toward management reform and the reduction of politicized debates, particularly surrounding Middle East issues. Last week, a Washington delegation personally delivered the letter to UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, confirming its contents.

Since assuming office in 2017, Azoulay has diligently tackled the issues that prompted the United States to withdraw from UNESCO. Through implementing budget reforms and fostering consensus among Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli diplomats on sensitive UNESCO resolutions, she has made significant strides.

Azoulay explained these efforts to both Democrats and Republicans in Washington, seeking to garner support for UNESCO’s cause. Thanks to her bipartisan negotiations, UNESCO diplomats are optimistic that the U.S. decision to rejoin the organization is a long-term commitment, unaffected by the outcome of the upcoming presidential election.

The U.S. decision to return is the culmination of five years of dedicated work, during which tensions, particularly in the Middle East, have been alleviated, response to contemporary challenges has improved, major initiatives on the ground have been resumed, and the organization’s operations have been modernized, Azoulay revealed in an interview with The Associated Press. The diplomats involved in this behind-the-scenes work, who wished to remain anonymous, confirm the extensive efforts that led to the U.S. decision.

According to a letter from Verma, the plan for the U.S. re-engagement includes the payment of 2023 dues along with an additional $10 million in bonus contributions. These funds will be allocated to important initiatives such as Holocaust education, the preservation of cultural heritage in Ukraine, journalist safety, and science and technology education in Africa.

The Biden administration has requested $150 million in the 2024 budget to address the UNESCO dues and arrears. This proposal aims to gradually pay off the total debt of $619 million by making similar requests in the coming years.

This financial commitment represents a significant portion of UNESCO’s annual operating budget, which amounts to $534 million. Prior to its departure, the United States contributed 22% of the agency’s overall funding.

Undersecretary of State for Management, John Bass, highlighted in March that the absence of the United States from UNESCO has bolstered China’s influence and weakened the effectiveness of promoting America’s vision of a free world.

Bass emphasized the crucial role of UNESCO in establishing and shaping global standards for technology and science education. He stressed that in the face of digital-age competition with China, the United States cannot afford to remain absent any longer.

The absence of the United States had placed UNESCO in a state of financial uncertainty. Diplomats associated with UNESCO described cost-cutting measures across various agency programs, while Director-General Audrey Azoulay made determined efforts to secure voluntary financing from other countries to bridge the gaps.

There is optimism among diplomats that the return of the United States would bring renewed ambition, tranquility, and invigorate programs focused on regulating artificial intelligence, empowering girls’ education in Afghanistan, and documenting the victims of slavery in the Caribbean.

The diplomat also expressed that if Israel expressed a desire to rejoin, UNESCO would welcome their return.

Previously, the United States withdrew from UNESCO during the Reagan administration in 1984, citing mismanagement, corruption, and concerns about Soviet influence. However, the United States rejoined the organization in 2003.

Source of Story : AP News

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