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US to rejoin UNESCO, 12 years after its withdrawal



The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on Monday announced that the United States has decided to rejoin the organisation in July.

The US will rejoin the UN cultural agency after having stopped all funding in 2011 and announced its complete withdrawal from the agency.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay told Member States that the decision was “a strong act of confidence in UNESCO and in multilateralism”.

He added that it was also an expression of confidence in the way that the agency was implementing its mandate on culture, education, science and information.

UNESCO said that in a letter sent to Azoulay, the U.S. State Department “welcomed the way in which UNESCO had addressed in recent years emerging challenges, modernised its management, and reduced political tensions”.

The country stopped funding UNESCO in 2011 after the organisation extended membership to Palestine. At the time, U.S. funding made up 22 per cent of the agency’s budget.

The United States is a founding member of UNESCO and had also withdrawn from the organisation in 1984, then rejoined in 2003.

The full return of the U.S. as a UNESCO Member State was made possible by an agreement reached by Congress in December 2022.

The agreement was part of the $1.7 trillion Omnibus Appropriations Bill, authorising the resumption of financial contributions to the organisation.

The suspension of contributions in 2011 took place after a large majority of other UNESCO countries accepted Palestine as a Member State.

This made the U.S. to trigger a 1990 law passed on Capitol Hill forbidding funding for any international body that admitted Palestine.

However, the legislation last December, granted waiver to the 33-year-old law.

The formal withdrawal from UNESCO by the U.S. occurred on January 1, 2019, with Israel following suit.

As of December 2020, the U.S. reportedly owed UNESCO around $616 million in unpaid membership dues.

According to news reports, U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, had spoke in Washington in favour of rejoining UNESCO.

He reportedly told lawmakers in April 2022, that it was important to be a member to help shape its norms and standards, and contribute to its critical work in education and artificial intelligence.

In its press release announcing the U.S. decision, UNESCO said new initiatives have been launched empowering the organisation “to fully tackle contemporary challenges”.

It said the challenges include issues such as the ethics of artificial intelligence or the protection of the ocean, “while emblematic new field campaigns, including the reconstruction of the old city of Mosul Iraq.

It said these “have allowed the organisation to reconnect with its historical ambitions.”

A new “financing plan” linked to the U.S. returning to the fold, will now be submitted to UNESCO’s General Conference, for Member States’ approval. 

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