US Formally Rejoins UNESCO After Five-year Absence

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Tuesday formally rejoined the U.N.’s scientific, educational and cultural organization after a five-year absence.

The U.S. return to the Paris-based UNESCO was based mainly on concerns that China has filled a leadership gap since the U.S. withdrew during the Trump administration. UNESCO’s governing board voted last week to approve the Biden administration’s proposal for the U.S. to rejoin.

On Monday, the U.S. delivered a document certifying it would accept the invitation. On Tuesday, UNESCO’s Director General Audrey Azoulay said it was official. A welcome ceremony with a flag-raising and VIP guests is expected in late July.

“This is excellent news for UNESCO. The momentum we have regained in recent years will now continue to grow. Our initiatives will be stronger throughout the world,” Azoulay said.

The Biden administration had announced last month that it would apply to rejoin the 193-member organization that plays a major role in setting international standards for artificial intelligence and technology education.

The U.S. is now the 194th member of UNESCO.

“Our organization is once again moving towards universality,” Azoulay said. She called the return of the United States “excellent news for multilateralism as a whole. If we want to meet the challenges of our century, there can only be a collective response.”

The Trump administration in 2017 announced that the U.S. would withdraw from UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias. That decision that took effect a year later.

The U.S. and Israel stopped financing UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011.

The Biden administration has requested $150 million for the 2024 budget to go toward UNESCO dues and arrears. The plan foresees similar requests for the ensuing years until the full debt of $619 million is paid off.

That makes up a big chunk of UNESCO’s $534 million annual operating budget. Before leaving, the U.S. contributed 22% of the agency’s overall funding.

The United States previously pulled out of UNESCO under the Reagan administration in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. It rejoined in 2003 during George W. Bush’s presidency.

Source: Associated Press