PARIS (AP) - The United States said Thursday it is pulling out of the U.N.‚Äôs educational, scientific and cultural agency because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and need for ‚Äúfundamental reform.‚ÄĚ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel plans to follow suit.
While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the announcement by the State Department on Thursday rocked the agency‚Äôs Paris headquarters, where a heated election to choose a new chief is underway.
The outgoing UNESCO director-general expressed her ‚Äúprofound regret‚ÄĚ at the decision and tried to defend the reputation of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions.
The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. The U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.
In a statement, the State Department said the decision will take effect Dec. 31, 2018, and that the U.S. will seek a ‚Äúpermanent observer‚ÄĚ status instead. It cited U.S. belief in ‚Äúthe need for fundamental reform in the organization.‚ÄĚ
Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel will also withdraw from the agency, saying it had become a ‚Äútheater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.‚ÄĚ