London – Britain remains committed to UNESCO, a spokesman for Prime Minister, Theresa May, said on Thursday after the U.S. withdrew from the UN’s cultural and educational agency.
“The government is committed to continued UK membership of UNESCO and to working with other member states in support of its important work,” the spokesperson said.
“Obviously the U.S. relationship with UNESCO is a matter for them.”
The U.S. announced on Thursday it was withdrawing from UNESCO, the UN’s cultural and educational agency, complaining about how it is run and about what Washington described as bias against Israel.
“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias,” State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said in a statement.
The withdrawal of the U.S., which provides a fifth of UNESCO’s funding, is a severe blow for the Paris-based organisation which began work in 1946 and is known for designating World Heritage sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park.
Under UNESCO rules, the withdrawal will become effective as of the end of December 2018.
Until that time, the U.S., which provides around 80 million dollars to UNESCO annually, will remain a full member.
The organisation, which employs around 2,000 people worldwide, most of them based in Paris, has long been the object of criticism over its use of resources and resolutions that have been perceived by Israel and other countries as biased.
The Director-General, Irina Bokova, expressed disappointment at the U.S. decision.
“At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the U.S. to withdraw from the UN agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,’’ she said.
“This is a loss to the UN family. This is a loss for multilateralism.’’
UNESCO is in the process of selecting a new chief, whose priority will be to revive its fortunes.
The U.S. move underscores the scepticism expressed by President Donald Trump about the need for the U.S. to remain engaged in multi-lateral bodies.
The president has touted an “America First” policy, which puts U.S. economic and nationalist interests ahead of international commitments.
Since Trump took office, the U.S. has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks, withdrawn from the Paris climate deal and opened up a renegotiation of a decades old North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
Trump has also called NATO obsolete, though he has since backtracked on that.
Diplomats expressed concern about the loss of U.S. engagement.
“The absence of the U.S. or any large country with a lot of power is a loss.
“It’s not just about money, it’s promoting ideals that are vital to countries like the U.S., such as education and culture,” a UNESCO-based diplomat said. (Reuters/NAN)