Wednesday, November 9

US and Israel boycott UNESCO because of Palestine membership

(Reuters) - The United Nation's cultural agency plans to cut costs and launch an emergency fund to raise cash after a vote to grant the Palestinians full membership led to a cutoff in vital U.S. and Israeli funding, its director general said Wednesday.
UNESCO's Irina Bokova said the organization, which promotes global education and press freedom among other tasks, has a $65 million shortfall in its 2011 budget, but has yet to receive any offers from other nations to fill the gap.
"We will (push) strongly the reform process and make every possible saving and look at reducing our administrative costs. It's a good opportunity to continue the reform of the organization," Bokova told reporters at her headquarters in central Paris.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization was plunged into financial crisis in October when Washington cut off its 22 percent support following the Palestinian vote.
U.S. legislation prohibits funding to any UN agency that grants full membership to any group that does not have "internationally recognized attributes" of statehood.
Bokova, who took her post two years ago, said UNESCO had received hundreds of letters of support -- including some with donations -- and was working on a plan to raise financing.
"We will launch an emergency fund ... we will do this fund to (collect) contributions from governments, the private sector, citizens and philanthropists," Bokova said, adding that she would only tap debt markets as a last resort.
UNESCO eyes emergency fund, savings to counter U.S. cuts
When asked whether any other UNESCO members such as wealthy Gulf Arab states -- which backed the Palestinian bid for membership -- had offered to make up the immediate cash flow issues, Bokova replied no.
"I have to deal with the imminent problem to review our activities by the end of the year and then of course we will reach out, but has somebody approached us? No," she said.
The 59-year old former Bulgarian foreign minister said she did not believe the United States would disengage from UNESCO in the long term, although if it did not pay its contributions for two years its voting rights would be suspended.
President Barack Obama's administration is talking to members of Congress about funding UNESCO, a U.N. agency for which there is little affection in an era of tight budgets, especially among some Republicans lawmakers.
Bokova said she did not expect an imminent change in the law, but said she had been lobbying lawmakers to change their minds and convince them of the agency's relevance to the United States.
"(UNESCO) is in the national interests of the United States, including its security interests," she said, describing the agency's role in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a U.S. troop drawdown is underway, and where her group helps develop local institutions and educate people.
"You don't want to leave them to extremism, fanaticism," said Bokova, saying UNESCO needs to be supported for its crucial work in literacy, police training and other efforts.
(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Rosalind Russell)
Picture: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki delivers a speech during the 36th session of UNESCO's General Conference in Paris, October 31, 2011.
Credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

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