Obama Budget Attempts to Resume UNESCO Defunding Over Recognition of 'Palestine'

The Obama administration is trying to circumvent U.S. law dating back to 1990 by asking Congress to resume the funding of United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 

UNESCO has been prohibited from receiving U.S. funding because it granted full membership to “Palestine” in 2011, conflicting with a statute that bars funding to “the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.” 

That law was supplemented in 2004 by legislation that prohibited  “voluntary or assessed contribution to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.”

In 2011, the Obama Administration cut U.S. funding to UNESCO in compliance with those laws. UNESCO head Irina Bokova said the loss represented 22% of its operating budget and caused the “worst ever” financial crisis in UNESCO's history. Still, the agency would not budge on its recognition of “Palestine.”

Instead, Bokova went to other countries for aid to make up the budget shortfall. She also asked the Obama Administration to reconsider its decision in the future. 

In its fiscal year 2013 budget request, Obama asked Congress for $79 million for UNESCO and to waive the defunding requirement. Congress said no, so on Wednesday Obama tried again, asking for $77.7 million for UNESCO in its FY2014 State and Foreign Operations budget proposal, presenting their request as an attempt to advance U.S. interests:

The ability to make such contributions is essential to advancing U.S. interests worldwide and strengthening U.S. global leadership, influence, and credibility. While the administration remains committed to heading off any new efforts by the Palestinians to seek such membership in organizations across the U.N. system, these moves may well continue... (the defunding legislation) “runs counter to U.S. national security interests by allowing the Palestinians to isolate the United States and prevent the active U.S. engagement necessary to pursue U.S. policy objectives in international organizations... In turn, the United States would lose influence and eventually voting rights in international organizations.

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