U.S. drops out of Unesco over arrears, 'anti-Israel bias'

VN exits race for UNESCO chief position

The US is pulling out of the UN's cultural organisation Unesco, accusing it of "anti-Israel" bias.

Washington said it would establish an "observer mission" to replace its representation at the agency.

In a lengthy written statement, Irina Bokova, Unesco's director-general, expressed regret at the American withdrawal and said that the American people shared the organization's goals.

Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization popularly known for its designation of world heritage sites, is a global development agency with missions that include promoting sex education, literacy, clean water and equality for women.

The State Department briefly outlined its reasoning in a press release: "This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO".

The United States - one of the body's founding members - has withdrawn once before under president Ronald Reagan, who quit in 1984 over alleged financial mismanagement and anti-US bias in some of its policies.

"The universal nature of UNESCO's activities is important in protecting peace and ensuring worldwide security in the face of violence and hatred", Bokova said in her statement. "We deeply regret that the United States chose to leave UNESCO", the communique said.

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"This decision was not taken lightly", according to a State Department statement on Thursday.

In July, Unesco declared the ancient and hotly contested core of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as a Palestinian World Heritage site in danger, a decision sharply criticized by Israel and its allies.

USA officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and it was not discussed with other countries.

In October, Israel suspended its co-operation over a draft resolution referring to the Old City of Jerusalem as part of "the cultural heritage of Palestine". The officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue, said the US was notably angry over UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish connections to holy sites and references to Israel as an occupying power.

The latest withdrawal takes effect December 31, 2018.

But in addition to the decision to admit the Palestinians in 2011, it has been the scene of repeated diplomatic flare-ups after Arab countries succeeded in passing a number of resolutions critical of Israel.

The US decision, first reported by Foreign Policy magazine, comes as European powers face another setback in their efforts to lobby Trump to respect Washington's worldwide commitments.

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