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AJE/IPS - US halts UNESCO funding

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  • Paul
    AJE - Aljazeera - 02 Nov 2011 US halts UNESCO funding As the UN cultural body admits Palestine as a full member, the US decides to halt funding to the group.
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2011
      AJE - Aljazeera -
      02 Nov 2011

      US halts UNESCO funding

      As the UN cultural body admits Palestine as a full member, the US
      decides to halt funding to the group.
      Jim Lobe Last Modified: 01 Nov 2011 10:22


      The administration of President Barack Obama announced Monday that it
      would immediately cut US funding for the United Nations Educational,
      Scientific and Cultural Organisation, just hours after UNESCO's
      governing board voted overwhelmingly to grant Palestine full membership.

      State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who noted that Washington
      had been scheduled to pay $60m dollars in dues to UNESCO next week, said
      the cut was required under legislation that bans US contributions to the
      UN or any of its specialised agencies that grants Palestine membership
      as a state.

      "Today's vote by the member states of UNESCO to admit Palestine as a
      member is regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of a
      comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East," she said,
      insisting that Washington still supports Palestinian statehood but only
      if it is "realised through direct negotiations" with Israel.

      Those negotiations have been held up for more than a year as a result of
      Israel's refusal to freeze its settlement expansion in the occupied
      territories of the West Bank and Gaza, as demanded by Palestinian
      Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

      Nuland also stressed Washington's strong support for the Paris-based
      agency, noting that it "serves a wide range of our national interests on
      education, science, culture and communications issues" and that the US
      "will maintain its membership in and commitment to UNESCO".

      Consequences for Washington

      But Washington could lose its vote in the agency if it fails to pay dues
      for two years, she noted. She also expressed concern that Monday's vote
      could herald a "cascade" of similar votes in other UN specialised
      agencies that would require Washington to cut funding to them.

      Despite heavy lobbying by US diplomats, 107 nations voted in favour of
      Palestinian membership, while only 14 countries opposed it. Fifty-two
      countries abstained, while 21 states were absent. Admission as a new
      member requires a two-thirds majority vote by UNESCO's General Conference.

      Voting against Palestinian membership with the US and Israel were
      Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the
      Netherlands, Sweden, Panama and a handful of South Pacific island-nations.

      The European Union (EU), which has proved unable to unite around a
      common Middle East policy, was deeply split. In addition to those EU
      members voting against, Britain, Denmark, Portugal, and half a dozen
      Central European countries abstained, whereas Belgium, France, Spain,
      Finland, Austria, Slovenia, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland, voted for the

      Both China and Russia, two of the five permanent Security Council
      members, also voted in favour, as did the rest of the so-called "BRICS"
      - Brazil, India, and South Africa - all the members of the Arab League,
      and several other emerging powers, notably Indonesia, Turkey and Nigeria.

      Perks of UN membership

      The vote follows last month's formal application by Abbas, acting as
      chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which
      represents Palestine diplomatically, to the UN Security Council for
      statehood status. The US has threatened to veto the application, which
      is currently under study by UN technical experts, if and when it comes
      to a vote.

      The US currently funds about 22 per cent of UNESCO's budget, or about
      $80m dollars per year. Withdrawing any portion of that amount could
      seriously affect the agency's many operations.

      Moreover, membership in UNESCO normally translates into automatic
      membership in several other UN agencies, including the World
      Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the UN Conference on Trade
      and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Industrial Development Organisation
      (UNIDO), as a result of reciprocity agreements between them.

      Indeed, senior State Department officials and the US Patent and
      Trademark Office met with representatives of several leading US
      companies and business associations Monday to discuss the possible
      implications for their relations with WIPO, whose work forms much of the
      legal basis for protecting intellectual property rights around the world.

      "In the last year alone, dozens of major American companies brought
      cases before WIPO - the American Automobile Association, Apple, The
      North Face, Costco and Facebook, to name just a few," noted former
      senator Timothy Wirth, president of the UN Foundation here.

      "If Palestine joins WIPO, the United States will have to pull out,
      limiting its ability to steer policies in ways that advance American
      economic interests and create jobs here at home."

      Given the margin of Monday's vote, moreover, it looks almost certain
      that the Palestinians will be admitted to other specialised agencies,
      including some, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),
      that are important for US national security, according to Wirth and
      other analysts.

      The IAEA, among other things, carries out inspections of nuclear
      facilities in Iran, North Korea, and other signatories of the nuclear
      Non-Proliferation Treaty.

      Possible repercussions

      "Should the United States stop paying membership dues to the IAEA -
      which it could be forced to do under current legislation if Palestine is
      admitted as a member - the United States would give up our vote on the
      executive board," Wirth wrote in a column published Monday by Huffington
      Post. "It would literally lose a seat at the table during the next
      nuclear crisis."

      "As long as these laws remain on the books, Congress is setting the
      stage for America's waning influence over international affairs," wrote
      Wirth, who called for businesses and non-government organisations to
      "take a stand and urge Congress to give the President the flexible
      authority needed (to) protect our national security and economic interests".

      But as Washington enters a presidential election year, the chances of
      the current congress, particularly its Republican House of
      Representatives, amending the legislation are "low to non-existent,"
      according to Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations
      at Americans for Peace Now (APN), a Zionist peace group.

      "Given what appears to be an overwhelming view in Congress that the
      Palestinian effort to gain legitimacy at the UN is tantamount to a new
      form of terrorism against Israel, it seems like that if (the current
      law) didn't already exist, the 112th Congress would invent it."

      Indeed, the House Foreign Affairs Chair, Representative Ileana
      Ros-Lehtinen, has introduced her own legislation that would not only ban
      US funding to any UN agency that grants statehood status to Palestine,
      but also eliminate all funding for the PA and the UN Relief and Works
      Agency, which aids Palestinian refugees, if Abbas continues seeking
      statehood status.

      "Today's reckless action by UNESCO is anti-Israel and anti-peace," she
      said Monday, referring to the Palestinian bid as a "dangerous scheme to
      bypass negotiations with Israel".

      But APN said Monday's vote should be "a wake-up call to Israel, the
      Obama administration, and the US Congress".

      "The status quo - in which Israel continues to pursue policies that are
      anathema to the two-state solution and in which the Obama administration
      is unable or unwilling to exercise convincing leadership to restore
      credibility to its peace policy - will lead only to further isolation
      and marginalisation of both Israel and the United States in the
      international community," the group warned.

      A version of this article first appeared on Inter Press Service news

      Source: IPS
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