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US, Israel lose UNESCO voting right in dispute

By Thomas Adamson

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 8 2013 12:20 p.m. MST

Some U.S. legislators also are concerned.

"The United States must not voluntarily forfeit its leadership in the world community," Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, told the AP in an email.

With efforts by Obama to get the money restored having failed or stalled, Ellison plans to introduce legislation in Congress to overturn what he calls the "antiquated" laws that automatically halted the flow of funds to the agency from November 2011.

The Obama administration has proposed language to amend the legislation, but it remains on the table amid recent U.S. budget setbacks.

For some it's a question of sooner rather than later, with the U.S. racking up arrears to UNESCO of some $220,000 a day, which it will have to pay back if it ever wants to fill the empty chair and get back the vote.

"Paying off three years is manageable, but it indeed becomes much more difficult if you allow many years to pass and the bill gets larger and larger and larger," said Esther Brimmer, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for international organizations.

The Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, Elias Sanbar, said other countries are beginning to make up for the U.S. shortfall. "Is this in the interest of the U.S., to be replaced?" he asked.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova lamented the changes that are not only seeing America silenced within her organization but also bringing UNESCO financially to its knees.

"I regret to say that I'm seeing, in these last two years ... a declining American influence and American involvement," Bokova said in an interview.

"I can't imagine how we could disengage with the United States at UNESCO. We are so intertwined with our message. What I regret is that this decision became so divisive and triggered this suspension of the funding," she added.

Bokova said she accepts political reality and will find ways for UNESCO to continue its work, despite a 2014 budget that's down by an estimated $150 million.

Some fear this debacle will have more serious consequences, if Palestine joins other more strategically important international agencies such as the World Health Organization.

Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP

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