Washington is asking to return to UNESCO, prompted by concern about the expansion of Beijing’s role in its policies


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced today, Monday, that the United States intends to restore its membership in the organization as of next July, to turn the page on a decade-long dispute with the body from which Washington withdrew in 2018.

Washington withdrew from membership in the organization in December 2018 during the term of former President Donald Trump due to accusations of bias against Israel and mismanagement, and Israel withdrew from UNESCO at the same time as the United States withdrew.

“It is an act of great confidence in UNESCO and in multilateralism,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay in a statement announcing the re-joining of the United States.

The proposed plan must be submitted to the General Conference of UNESCO, based in Paris, for the approval of member states, and some of those countries have called for an extraordinary session soon to make a decision.

The United States provides about a fifth of UNESCO funding, equivalent to $75 million, but Barack Obama, who preceded Trump as President of the United States, stopped paying in 2011 when Palestine became a full member of the organization because US law prevents such funding in that case.

Then US President Donald Trump went further by announcing in 2017 that the United States would withdraw from UNESCO alongside Israel, accusing the body of bias against the latter. The decision to withdraw came into force in 2018.

When the United States left the organization, it owed it $542 million. US laws prohibit providing funding to any United Nations organization, which constitutes an implicit recognition of the Palestinians’ claim to their independent state.

An agreement was reached in the US Congress in December 2022 that makes it possible for Washington to resume its financial contributions to UNESCO.

Azoulay, the former French Minister of Culture who has taken over the management of UNESCO since 2017, has also implemented reforms in the past few years to address the reasons for Washington’s withdrawal, and has made the issue of bringing the United States back a top priority.

And last March, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that the absence of the United States from UNESCO leaves room for China to formulate rules related to artificial intelligence.

“I strongly believe that we should go back to UNESCO, not as a gift to UNESCO, but because what happens there really matters,” Blinken told a Senate committee when presenting the budget. “They are working on rules, principles and standards for artificial intelligence. We want to be a party,” he added.

It is noteworthy that the United States previously withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 and returned to the organization after an absence that lasted nearly 20 years in October 2003.


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Washington is asking to return to UNESCO, prompted by concern about the expansion of Beijing’s role in its policies

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