US cuts UNESCO funding after Palestinians admitted

November 1, 2011 5:39 am


Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki delivers a speech on Oct 31 in Paris/AFP
WASHINGTON, Nov 1 – The United States cut its funding on Monday for UNESCO after the UN’s cultural arm defied American and Israeli warnings and voted to allow jubilant Palestinians full membership in the body.

President Barack Obama, who has vowed to veto a separate Palestinian bid for statehood recognition at the UN Security Council, believes the campaign detracts from tough bargaining needed with Israel to make real progress.

Angry US officials said Washington was withdrawing its share of UNESCO funding, which amounts to almost a quarter of the cultural body’s overall budget, and warned of a “cascade” effect should other UN bodies follow suit.

“We were to have made a $60 million payment to UNESCO in November and we will not be making that payment,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Earlier, at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, the resolution approving Palestinian membership was adopted to loud applause by 107 countries with 14 nations voting against the move and 52 abstaining.

“Accepting Palestine into UNESCO is a victory for rights, for justice and for freedom,” Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was quoted as saying by his spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeina.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki, who was in Paris for the vote, hailed “a historic moment that gives Palestine back some of its rights.”

France, which had voiced serious doubts about the motion, in the end approved it along with almost all Arab, African, Latin American and Asian nations, including China and India.

Besides Israel and the United States, Canada, Australia and Germany voted against it, while Japan and Britain abstained.

Israel’s ambassador Nimrod Barkan slammed countries that “have adopted a science fiction version of reality by admitting a non-existent state to the science organization…. UNESCO should deal in science not science fiction.”

He admitted that the vote, while symbolic, could have a knock-on effect: “There is potential for a cascading effect of this resolution on many other UN specialized agencies and in New York.”

The Palestinians could now seek full membership of other UN organizations like the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, or the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Such moves would place the United States in an increasing diplomatic bind as in the 1990s it banned the financing of any UN organization that accepts Palestine as a full member.

“Not paying our dues into these organizations could severely restrict and reduce our ability to influence them, our ability to act within them, and we think this affects US interests,” Nuland admitted.

Palestinian leader Abbas submitted the request for membership of the United Nations in September, and the UN Security Council is to meet on November 11 to decide whether to hold a formal vote on the application.

As a permanent Security Council member the United States says it will veto any resolution granting full UN membership to the Palestinians, but no one can veto measures at UNESCO and several other UN agencies.

The Palestinians previously had observer status at UNESCO.

Washington boycotted UNESCO from 1984 to 2003 over what the State Department called “growing disparity between US foreign policy and UNESCO goals.”

Despite the 20-year US boycott, Obama now considers UNESCO a strategic interest and Washington sees it as a useful multilateral way to spread certain Western values.

Nuland said the United States would continue its membership and participation in the cultural body, which depends on the United States for some $80 million a year, about 22 percent of its annual funding.

If the United States is in arrears in its payments for two years it will lose its vote.

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