UNESCO Suspends U.S., Israel

PARIS (Reuters) -

UNESCO has suspended the voting rights of the United States and Israel, two years after both countries stopped paying dues to the U.N.’s cultural arm in protest over its granting full membership to the Palestinians.

The U.S. decision to cancel its funding in October 2011 was due to U.S. laws that prohibit funding any U.N. agency that implies recognition of the Palestinians’ demands for a state.

Israel also pulled its funding, objecting to unilateral attempts by the Palestinians to gain statehood instead of sticking to bilateral negotiations, as agreed.

Both countries missed a Friday deadline to provide an official justification for non-payment and a plan to pay back missed dues, a UNESCO source told Reuters. That automatically triggered suspension of their voting rights.

Asked for his reaction, the U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, said Washington considers UNESCO a “critical partner in creating a better future.”

“We intend to continue our engagement with UNESCO in every possible way,” Killion said.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, is responsible for designating world heritage sites, promoting global education and supporting press freedom, among other tasks.

The withdrawal of U.S. funding — which totaled about $240 million, or some 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget — has plunged it into a funding crisis and forced it to cut programs.

UNESCO made no comment on the matter.