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US asks to be re-elected to UNESCO board

October 19, 2015

The US has lobbied for another four-year term at UNESCO, despite $300 million in arrears to the organization. Washington lost voting rights after it stopped paying dues in protest of Palestine's admission in 2011.

Symbolbild UNESCO
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that President Barack Obama would urge US lawmakers to restore funding to UNESCO after Washington cut off its contributions following Palestine's admission as full member in 2011.

"We are seeking re-election to the executive board because we believe that both the United States and UNESCO are better off the deeper our ties extend," Kerry said in a speech at the headquarters of the world cultural agency in Paris.

"And in standing for re-election, both President Obama and I are also pledging to work with our former colleagues in the US Congress, and do all we can to restore US funding to UNESCO in full."

The US lost voting rights in the UNESCO general assembly in November 2013 under the agency's rules that suspend a nation after two years of non-payment, although it has remained on the executive board.

A 1994 US law prohibits the government from providing contributions to organizations that recognize Palestinian statehood.

$300 million in arrears

Prior to 2011 the US had contributed about 22 percent of UNESCO's annual budget, and the lost revenue has hit the organization hard. The Obama administration has unsuccessfully tried to persuade Congress to restore the funding for several years.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said the organization needs the US and looked forward to repairing ties.

"In every family there are small problems," Bokova said. "There is one small problem that we have to fix, maybe, with you, but I'm sure that with your commitment we will do that."

But Kerry's bid ahead of next month's vote is likely to run into resistance as the US still owes about $300 million (264 million euros) in arrears to the organization.

UNESCO is known for its programs to protect cultural places it designates as heritage sites, including New York's Statue of Liberty, Mali's Timbuktu and the ancient Roman city of Pompeii in Italy.

Its core mission, as conceived by the US, a co-founder of the agency in 1946, was to be an anti-extremist organization that tackles foreign policy issues such as access to clean water, literacy for girls, poverty reduction and freedom of expression.

jar/cmk (AP, AFP)