USA withdraws from UNESCO

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington Wednesday

Netanyahu said he had instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare for Israel's withdrawal as well.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to leave UNESCO "brave" and "moral".

Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel also plans to withdraw from the agency, saying it had become a "theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it". With no sign that USA concerns would be addressed, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a decision to pull out after December 31, 2017, when the unpaid balance will top $600 million.

As well as accusing UNESCO of bias, the USA state department said it was also concerned about mounting financial arrears at the agency and said it should be reformed.

The country accused the body of "anti-Israel bias". The US more than $US80m of funding to the agency amid the furore over Palestinian membership six years ago, but continued to be charged, and now owes more than $US500m, the magazine said.

"The US relationship with Unesco is a matter for them".

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he "does deeply regret this decision to withdraw from UNESCO".

The US responded by cutting off funding to any organisation that recognised independent Palestine and its 22 per cent share of the annual UNESCO budget, which was then US$80 million, was also suspended.

The U.S. move underscores the scepticism expressed by President Donald Trump about the need for the remain engaged in multi-lateral bodies.

This seemed odd because UNESCO is such an inoffensive-seeming organization: Its most prominent function is designating and protecting official global landmarks, called World Heritage Sites - places like The Alamo and the Great Barrier Reef.

Nauert said the State Department had notified UNESCO's outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova of their decision earlier Thursday.

The US stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but its State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes.

She said "politicisation" had "taken its toll" on the organisation in recent years.

"At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack". The Paris-based agency's executive board is in the midst of choosing a new chief — with Qatar's Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari leading the heated election heading into Friday's final vote. Israel recalled its ambassador to the Paris-based organization previous year after some governments supported a resolution that denounced Israel's policies on religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Former President Ronald Reagan withdrew the USA from the organisation in 1984, and former President George W. Bush rejoined the cultural group in 2002.

Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan took to Twitter and called on the USA to stop funding the United Nations if the worldwide body publishes the so-called "blacklist" of companies that operate there.

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