Director-General of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay has disclosed that the United States plans to rejoin the institution and pay more than $600 million in back dues.
Azoulay made the announcement in a special meeting with Ambassadors of the member states. The news was welcomed by the delegates.
The U.S. and Israel stopped funding UNESCO after the organization voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011. Citing long-running anti-Israel bias and management problems, the Trump administration decided in 2017 to withdraw from the agency altogether the following year.
That was not the first time. The United States previously pulled out of UNESCO under the Reagan administration in 1984 because it perceived the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. It rejoined in 2003.
The decision to return, according to U.S. officials, was driven by concern that China is filling the void left by the U.S. in UNESCO policymaking, notably in setting standards for artificial intelligence and technology education around the world.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Richard Verma submitted a letter last week to UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay formalizing the plan to rejoin.
A UNESCO diplomat divulged that the return of the U.S., once the agency’s biggest funder, is expected to face a vote by its 193 member states next month.
The U.S decision is a big financial boost to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known for its World Heritage program as well as projects to fight climate change and teach girls to read.
One diplomat expressed hope that the return of the U.S. would bring “more ambition, and more serenity” and energize programs to regulate artificial intelligence, educate girls in Afghanistan and chronicle victims of slavery in the Caribbean.
The diplomat iterated that the agency would also “welcome” Israel back if it wanted to rejoin. However, there was no immediate response from the Israeli government.
China Appreciates Efforts Aimed At Bringing U.S Back To UNESCO
China’s Ambassador to UNESCO, Jin Yang, averred that his country “appreciates” UNESCO’s efforts to bring the U.S. back, saying that its absence had a “negative impact” on the agency’s work.
“Being a member of an international organization is a serious issue, and we hope that the return of the U.S. this time means it acknowledges the mission and the goals of the organization.”Jin Yang
Since her election in 2017, Azoulay has worked to address the reasons the U.S. left, through budget reforms and building consensus among Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli diplomats around sensitive UNESCO resolutions.
Azoulay, who is Jewish, won broad praise by UNESCO Ambassadors for her personal efforts to address U.S. concerns around Israel in particular.
The U.S. decision to come back “is the result of five years of work, during which we calmed tensions, notably on the Middle East, improved our response to contemporary challenges, resumed major initiatives on the ground and modernized the functioning of the organization,” Azoulay told reporters.
According to Verma’s letter, under the proposed arrangement, the United States would pay its 2023 dues along with an additional $10 million this year, that will be used to fund Holocaust education, Ukrainian cultural heritage preservation, journalist safety, and science and technology education in Africa.
In order to pay for UNESCO dues and arrears, the Biden administration has already asked for $150 million in the 2024 budget. Until the $619 million debt is fully repaid, the plan anticipates similar requests for the upcoming years.
That accounts for a sizable portion of the $534 million annual operating budget for UNESCO.