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US to Rejoin UN Cultural Agency, Pay Extra Money

FILE - In this Nov.4, 2017 file photo, the logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is seen during the 39th session of the General Conference at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
 US to Rejoin UN Cultural Agency, Pay Extra Money
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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced recently that the United States plans to rejoin the organization.

UNESCO said the U.S. would pay more than $600 million to the U.N. agency that it had withheld in the past.

The change comes after a 10-year dispute caused by UNESCO’s decision to include Palestine as a member.

U.S. officials suggested their decision was a result of concerns about China’s possible influence in UNESCO policymaking. Of special interest to the U.S. are policies regarding artificial intelligence and technology education around the world.

The U.S. and Israel stopped financing UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011. In 2017, the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump announced its withdrawal from the agency. The withdrawal took effect in 2018. The U.S. pointed to what it called the agency’s anti-Israel bias and management problems.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma submitted a letter to UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay explaining the plan to rejoin. Verma noted progress in the debate about the Middle East at UNESCO and improvements in the agency’s management. The Associated Press (AP) reported that it looked at the letter Verma sent.

Delegates welcomed the news as Azoulay announced the plan at a special meeting. The return of the U.S., once the agency’s biggest supporter, is expected to face a vote by its 193 member states next month, a UNESCO diplomat said.

UNESCO is known for its World Heritage program as well as projects to fight climate change and to teach girls how to read.

China’s ambassador to UNESCO, Jin Yang, said his country “appreciates” UNESCO’s efforts to bring the U.S. back, saying its absence had a “negative” effect on the agency’s work.

Since her election in 2017, Azoulay said she has worked to deal with the reasons the U.S. withdrew. Azoulay is Jewish. UNESCO ambassadors praised her efforts to deal with U.S. concerns about Israel.

One UNESCO diplomat said she met with Democrat and Republican Party lawmakers in Washington to explain those efforts.

UNESCO diplomats expressed confidence that the U.S. decision to return is for the long term, regardless of who wins next year’s presidential election. The AP did not give the names of the diplomats.

Under the new plan, the U.S. government would pay its 2023 amount plus $10 million more this year. The extra payment is to be spent on Holocaust education, preserving cultural heritage in Ukraine, journalist safety, and science and technology education in Africa, Verma’s letter said.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has already requested $150 million for the 2024 budget to go toward UNESCO payments. The plan predicts similar requests for the following years until $619 million is paid.

Undersecretary of State for Management John Bass said in March that the U.S. absence from UNESCO has strengthened China.

He said UNESCO is important in deciding how technology and science teaching takes place around the world. “We can’t afford to be absent any longer,” he said.

I’m John Russell.

Angela Charlton reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

bias – n. a tendency to treat some people unfairly

management –n. the act of, process or people supervising or overseeing the activities of a group or organization

appreciate – v. to be grateful for (something); to understand the importance of something

preserve – v. to keep something in good condition

absent –adj. to not be present