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Saturday, December 15, 2012

US to fund UNESCO?

When 'Palestine' joined UNESCO, it cost the organization 22% of its funding, or $78 million annually. Claudia Rosett reports that the Obama administration has a plan to re-fund UNESCO.
But Bokova, in her push for the resumption of U.S. funding, has had an improbable ally: the U.S. administration itself. In Paris, President Barack Obama’s ambassador to UNESCO is a former congressional staffer, David Killion, who played a part in bringing the U.S. back into UNESCO nine years ago. Following the UNESCO vote last year to admit the Palestinians, Killion came close to apologizing for the U.S. position. He pledged that the U.S. would keep trying to “find ways to support and strengthen the important work” of UNESCO.
In February, the U.S. State Department released a budget proposal that ignored the defunding of UNESCO required by U.S. law, and proposed $79 million for UNESCO in fiscal year 2013. A footnote, in fine print, informed readers that the State Department “intends to work with Congress to seek legislation that would provide authority to waive restrictions on paying the U.S. assessed contributions to UNESCO.”
Some members of Congress were outraged. Florida representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, released a statement saying she was “deeply disappointed that, rather than standing up for U.S. law and for our key ally, Israel, the Administration is seeking to remove this roadblock to the unilateral recognition of a ‘Palestinian state.’” Ros-Lehtinen added that any attempt to waive the law “will pave the way for the Palestinian leadership’s unilateral statehood scheme to drive on, and sends a disastrous message that the U.S. will fund U.N. bodies no matter what irresponsible decisions they make.”
Enough lawmakers shared her views that it seemed for a while that the administration would not get its wish to reopen the money spigot for UNESCO. Some deterrent is needed to Palestinian opportunism at the U.N., where Obama’s State Department failed last month to stop the General Assembly from voting to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status to that of non-member observer state. Former ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton notes that how the U.S. deals with UNESCO could set a vital precedent for how it would treat other U.N. agencies, such as the World Health Organization, were they to admit the Palestinian Authority. “If you waive the prohibition once,” Bolton says, “and waive it for a trivial little organization like UNESCO, the pressure to waive it everywhere else will be overwhelming.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, UNESCO has been busy in the back corridors.

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All of which might be of no great interest were Papagiannis laboring in Washington to enhance literacy, or perhaps restore cultural artifacts. But there’s a lot of discussion going on among this crowd about how the funding law might be waived. On one of the blogs linked to on the Americans for UNESCO site, there’s a post dated December 1 with the caption “The Process to Change the Law.” It outlines exactly how that might be done — by way of an amendment to a big spending bill: “There will probably not be a specific vote of the Congress on the proposed amendment. Rather it will be included in a larger bill to appropriate funds, that will probably be approved before March, 2013. . . . Lacking strong opposition in the Congress, the waiver will probably be incorporated into the bill.”  
Is this credible? I phoned the author of the post, the same John Daly. Daly is an ardent supporter of UNESCO, but unlike Papagiannis he answered my questions. He said he got this information from Peter Yeo, when Yeo spoke at a November 26 panel hosted by Americans for UNESCO at George Washington University. Yeo is a former congressional staffer who now serves as executive director of the Better World Campaign, which is an advocacy arm of Ted Turner’s well-heeled and well-connected U.N. Foundation. In a phone interview this week, Yeo repeated the view that a waiver for UNESCO is likely to go through in “a big omnibus spending bill,” because “this is a strategy that’s been outlined by the president.”
When Yeo shared these thoughts at last month’s Americans for UNESCO panel, he was speaking alongside Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Esther Brimmer. Both of them were responding to a keynote speech by UNESCO’s George Papagiannis.
 What could go wrong?

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