National security adviser Susan Rice urged Congress to help U.S. regain UNESCO vote

November 9, 2013

White House national security adviser Susan E. Rice on Saturday urged Congress to enable the United States to regain its vote in UNESCO, which the nation lost for not paying dues.

On her Twitter feed, Rice wrote: “Shameful that US has lost its vote at #UNESCO. Congress needs to fix this. Current law doesn’t punish the Palestinians; it handicaps the US.”

On Friday, UNESCO suspended the voting rights of the United States and Israel, two years after the two countries stopped paying dues to the U.N. cultural agency to protest the granting of full membership to the Palestinians.

The U.S. decision to cancel funding in October 2011 was blamed on federal laws that prohibit funding to any U.N. agency that implies recognition of Palestinians’ demands for their own state. The loss of U.S. funding — about $240 million, or 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget — plunged the organization into a fiscal crisis and forced it to cut programs.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is responsible for designating World Heritage sites, promoting global education and supporting press freedom, among other tasks. Analysts say the loss of its vote takes from the United States an important opportunity to exercise “soft power,” the ability to exert international influence through means other than brute force or money. That gap is likely to be filled by emerging global powers such as China, they say.

“UNESCO directly advances U.S. interests in supporting girls’ and women’s education, facilitating important scientific research, promoting tolerance, protecting and preserving the world’s natural and cultural heritage, supporting freedom of the press, and much more,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday.

It is not the first time the United States has been at odds with UNESCO. Washington withdrew from the agency in 1984, complaining of wasteful bureaucracy and a bias toward the developing world.

Under the leadership of Senegal’s Amadou Mbow, UNESCO promoted a controversial “new world information order” that the Western press saw as a bid to muzzle it. The administration of President Ronald Reagan accused it of serving as a forum for Third World criticism of the United States and Israel.

The United States rejoined the agency in 2002 under President George W. Bush, who said it had undertaken needed reforms.

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