By Kanishka Singh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – UNESCO member states have backed the United States’ return to the United Nations cultural body nearly five years after then-President Donald Trump ordered a withdrawal US, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday.
“I am encouraged and grateful that today the members (of UNESCO) accepted our proposal, which will allow the United States to take the next formal steps towards full reintegration into the organization,” Blinken said. in a press release.
UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – is best known for designating and protecting archaeological and heritage sites, from the Galapagos Islands to the tombs of Timbuktu.
Trump pulled the United States from the Paris-based organization in 2018 over accusations of anti-Israel bias and mismanagement. Most of UNESCO’s activities are non-controversial – but issues such as resolutions on how religious sites should be managed in Jerusalem have been busy.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said such issues are now a thing of the past after finding consensus between Israelis and Palestinians.
The US State Department said in a letter dated June 8 that it wanted to join UNESCO in July as a full member and that it intended to repay $619 million in arrears spread over several years.
Member states approved the US return in a special session this week, Blinken said on Friday.
The 2018 withdrawal of the United States – which had provided a fifth of UNESCO’s funding – threw the organization into turmoil.
Israel also withdrew from UNESCO after Washington’s departure. At this stage, there are no negotiations for his return, Azoulay said.
US law prohibits Washington from funding UN bodies that have admitted Palestine as a full member. The United States’ return to UNESCO was made possible after a congressional waiver earlier this year, which will be in effect until the end of 2025.
UNESCO was founded from the ashes of World War II to protect the common cultural heritage of humanity.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Eric Beech and Jonathan Oatis)