USA loses voting rights in UNESCO

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UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has suspended the voting rights of the United States, two years after it stopped paying dues to this largest UN agency in protest over its granting full membership to the Palestinians, a UNESCO source told Reuters today (8 November).

The U.S. decision to cancel its funding in October 2011 was blamed on US laws that prohibit funding to any UN agency that implies recognition of Palestinian demands for their own state.

The U.S. missed a Friday deadline to provide an official justification of its non-payment and a plan to pay back its missed dues, the UNESCO source said, automatically triggering the suspension of voting rights.

As of the 1100 a.m. GMT deadline, "nothing was received from the United States," the source said. Two separate diplomatic sources also confirmed the deadline had been missed, triggering the suspension of voting rights.

There was no immediate comment at the office of the U.S. envoy to the U.N. agency.

UNESCO designates World Heritage sites, promotes global education and supports press freedom among other tasks.

The withdrawal of US funding – which to date amounts to about $240 million or some 22 percent of UNESCO's budget – has plunged the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization into a financial crisis, forcing it to cut programmes and slash spending.

UNESCO made no comment on the matter. Its Director-General Irina Bokova was expected to issue a statement later.

The loss of voting rights for the key UNESCO member comes as Washington tries to keep U.S.-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians afloat.

Both parties have signalled the lack of progress in the talks, revived in July after a three-year hiatus but recently stymied over Israeli plans to continue building Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Israel that a third Palestinian uprising is at stake if the talks fail. Kerry has set a nine-month schedule for a peace deal.

The Palestinians have so far failed in their bid to become a full member of the UN, but their UNESCO membership is seen as a potential first step towards UN recognition of statehood.

The United States has characterized UNESCO's move as a misguided attempt to bypass the two-decade old peace process. Washington says only a resumption of peace talks ending in a treaty with Israel can result in Palestinian statehood. 

The USA has boycotted the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for 18 years, from 1984 to 2002.

A founding member of UNESCO in 1948, Washington historically was its biggest financial contributor, covering 25 percent of its $180-million annual budget at the time of its 1984 withdrawal.

The administration of US President Ronald Reagan originally ordered the pullout to protest what it called UNESCO's " anti-US" politicization and "extravagant budgetary mismanagement" under then-director-general Amadou Mahtar M'Bow of Senegal.

M'Bow has been replaced in 1987, but Congress remained opposed. President Bill Clinton recommended in 1995 returning to the organization, but Congress did not go along.

George W. Bush ended the boycott in a UN speech in September 2002, against the background of US preparations to confront the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. 

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