By Suzanne Presto
The United States on Monday cut off funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, after the body voted to accept a bid for full membership by the Palestinians.
State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the vote “regrettable” and “premature,” saying it undermines the “shared goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
Nuland told reporters that although the United States remains committed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and to multilateral engagement across the U.N. system, the vote would have immediate consequences.
“Palestinian membership as a state in UNESCO triggers long-standing legislative restrictions, which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNESCO,” said Nuland.
Nuland said the United States will not make a $60 million payment to UNESCO in November as planned. Still, she said, the United States would maintain its membership in the organization.
U.S. lawmakers have placed restrictions on financial support for any U.N.-affiliated body that accepts Palestinian membership before an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord is reached. The United States promotes the goal of a two-state solution reached through direct negotiations.
One-hundred-seven UNESCO delegates voted in favor of the Palestinian bid. The State Department’s Victoria Nuland said the United States has made its disapproval clear to those countries, adding that U.S. officials are trying to prevent this from happening again.
“We’re certainly making the point directly to the Palestinians and to the voting members of other organizations that we don’t see any benefit and we see considerable potential damage if this move is replicated in other U.N. organizations,” she said.
Nuland said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken to U.S. lawmakers and has organized a team to speak to Congress about the restrictions and options to protect U.S. interests.
According to UNESCO’s constitution, if a country is in arrears in its payments to UNESCO for more than two years, it could lose its voting rights in the body.
The funding cuts could also have implications for the U.N. body because the United States provides 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget.