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The United States officially joins UNESCO

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The United States officially joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) after a five-year absence. The country is now the 194th member state of the Paris-based international agency, whose responsibilities include protecting cultural heritage and improving literacy, among other global issues.

The US government announced it was seeking to rejoin Unesco in June, member states vote massively to readmit the country during a two-day session at the end of last month. The decision to reconnect with Unesco was prompted by the decision of the Biden administration concerns over China’s growing influence on the United Nations body, with China increasing its contributions to Unesco to around $65 million. The readmission of the United States, which involves the refund of more than $600 million in dues, is an attempt to counter this grip.

“This is a historic moment,” said UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay. Press release. “Our Organization is once again moving towards universality…this is great news for multilateralism as a whole. If we are to meet the challenges of our century, there can only be a collective response.

The United States, which helped found UNESCO after World War II, officially withdrew from the agency in 2019 under the Trump administration. Officials at the time cited perceived ‘anti-Israel bias’, with then-US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley call him “among the most corrupt and politically biased United Nations agencies”. Tensions had been rising for years as the United States and Israel cut funding to UNESCO after voting to admit Palestine as a full member in 2011.

The Biden administration requested $150 million in the fiscal year 2024 budget to begin paying down U.S. membership arrears, which total about $619 million.

“The return of the United States, and the additional resources that come with it, will allow us to better support everyone in the world: pupils and students, researchers, academics, artists, educators, journalists, all those on whom our work everyday is focused,” Azoulay said. “UNESCO will also have more resources for its two strategic priorities, Africa and gender equality.”

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