PARIS (AP) - The United States said Thursday it is pulling out of the U.N.â€™s educational, scientific and cultural agency because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and need for â€śfundamental reform.â€ť 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 agencyâ€™s Paris headquarters, where a heated election to choose a new chief is underway.
The outgoing UNESCO director-general expressed her â€śprofound regretâ€ť 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 â€śpermanent observerâ€ť status instead. It cited U.S. belief in â€śthe need for fundamental reform in the organization.â€ť
Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel will also withdraw from the agency, saying it had become a â€śtheater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.â€ť