US aims to join UN science and education body in pushing back against China

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has said the United States will join the United Nations’ educational and scientific organization after a five-year absence that began when Donald Trump was president.

The State Department said it delivered a letter requesting his readmission to the Paris-based body, known as UNESCO, late last week. The June 8 letter from Assistant Secretary of State for Management Richard Verma offered “a plan for the United States to join the organization,” the department said.

“Such action would require the agreement of current UNESCO members, and we understand that UNESCO leadership will convey our proposal to members in the coming days,” the department said in a statement.

The details of the proposal were not immediately clear. The United States owes the organization a significant amount of money for overdue dues payments. But earlier this year, the administration earmarked $150 million in its current budget plan to pay for a return to UNESCO.

The United States and UNESCO have had a turbulent relationship over the past four decades after falling out mostly over ideological issues during the Cold War and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more recently.

Former President Ronald Reagan withdrew the United States from UNESCO in 1983, but former President George W. Bush joined in 2002. Trump withdrew the United States from the agency in 2017, citing his alleged anti-Israeli bias. Israel announced its withdrawal at the same time and the withdrawals took effect in January 2018.

The Biden administration declared upon taking office that it intended to join UNESCO. And in March, when presenting the next year’s budget, Undersecretary of State for Management John Bass said the administration believed joining UNESCO would help the United States in its global rivalry with China, which has invested large sums in United Nations organizations. .

Joining UNESCO “will help us deal with a key opportunity cost that our absence creates in our global competition with China,” he said.

“If we are really serious about digital age competition with China, from my point of view, in a lucid set of interests, we cannot afford to be absent any longer from one key forums in which standards in science and technology education are set,” said Bass.

“And there are a number of other examples in this space of UNESCO’s mission where our absence is noted and where it undermines our ability to be as effective in promoting our vision of a free world,” said he declared.


Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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