The United States reportedly plans to formally withdraw from the UN’s troubled cultural body out of financial considerations and what it says is an ingrained anti-Israel bias.
Washington could announce its exit from UNESCO as early as next week, Foreign Policy magazine reported Wednesday.
The US will remain an observer in the Paris-based cultural, scientific and educational organization.
According to the report, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision several weeks ago at the UN General Assembly, but the State Department urged Washington to remain in the organization until a new director general is voted in the coming weeks.
Washington is also trying to mitigate the mounting unpaid dues it owes to the organization since it suspended its funding after UNESCO granted full membership to Palestine in 2011.
The unpaid dues have now reached $500 million, and Tillerson is trying to “stop the bleeding,” the magazine said.
The report comes as UNESCO member states are voting on a new director-general, in a process marked by intense diplomatic wrangling between the seven candidates.
Arab countries have long wanted to lead the organization, though divisions over Palestinian membership have complicated their push.
France and Qatar were running neck-and-neck in the race to lead UNESCO after a third round of voting Wednesday whittled the field down to five.
Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari and France’s Audrey Azoulay — both former culture ministers — had 18 votes apiece in the battle to replace outgoing UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova.
Carmel Shama-Hacohen, Israel’s UNESCO ambassador this week lamented the results of the initial rounds of voting, telling The Times of Israel it was “bad news for the organization and unfortunately also for Israel.”
UNESCO delegates will continue to vote every day this week until one candidate receives a majority of votes. If, by the fourth round of voting, to be held on Thursday, no candidate has received a majority, only the top two candidates from that round of voting will be put forward for a final vote Friday.
In recent months, the Paris-based body delighted Palestinians when it declared the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank an endangered world heritage site. It has also passed several resolutions ignoring Jewish ties to Jerusalem, drawing Israeli officials’ fury.
Israeli officials have stepped up lobbying at the world body in recent years, charging it with passing one-sided resolutions that obsessively target Israel.