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US leaving UNESCO

A logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is displayed in front of the organization headquarters on September 14, 2011. AFP PHOTO MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States is withdrawing from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) over concerns about rising debts and what the State Department calls a “continuing anti-Israel bias.”   UNESCO is dedicated to protecting World Heritage sites, boosting education, and protecting freedom of expression around the globe.  Recently, UNESCO has been particularly active in working to defend World Heritage sites in Syria, damaged or destroyed by terrorists and Syria’s ongoing civil war.

The State Department released a statement saying the US is concerned about a “need for fundamental reform in the organization,” in addition to the alleged anti-Israel bias.  Despite those concerns, the State Department says the US is hoping to stay in contact with UNESCO as a non-member observer state.  Whether that will happen is up to UNESCO’s Director-General.  She issued a statement saying she feels “profound regret at the decision of the United States,” calling it “a loss for multilateralism.” The statement also points out that the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon are all World Heritage sites.

The Director-General did not indicate if the United States would be allowed to become a non-member observer state, but she has some time to decide.   The US will continue being a UNESCO member until December 31, 2018.