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US Says It Will Withdraw From UNESCO, Citing 'Anti-Israel Bias'

The Trump administration has announced that the U.S. will withdraw from UNESCO, the United Nations’ chief cultural and educational agency. In a statement released Thursday, the State Department said the move won’t take effect for more than a year, noting the withdrawal will be as of Dec. 31, 2018.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in the announcement.

Still, she noted the Trump administration still wants the U.S. to remain engaged with the U.N. agency “as a non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education.”

The cultural aid agency — which seeks to coordinate international efforts in education, science and heritage remembrance — has been at odds with the U.S. since 2011, when it voted overwhelmingly to offer full membership to a state of Palestine. Just hours after that vote, the U.S. cut its funding to UNESCO, while still maintaining its membership.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cut that remaining tie by sending official notification of the decision to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who expressed “profound regret” at the move.

“At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,” she said in an extensive statement Thursday.

“This is a loss to UNESCO,” she added. “This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism.”

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