The U.S. notified the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO that it is ending its membership, the agency's director general, Irina Bokova, said yesterday. Bokova said she "deeply regrets" the decision and is convinced that "UNESCO has never been so important for the U.S., or the U.S. for UNESCO" given the rise of violent extremism and terrorism in the world. The U.S. will seek to have a "permanent observer" status instead.
The decision comes as the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is voting to choose a new director this week, in tense balloting overshadowed by the agency's funding troubles and divisions over Palestinian membership.
UNESCO is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions around the world. The agency also works to improve education for girls in desperately poor countries and in scientific fields, to promote better understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and to defend media freedom, among other activities. The United States had cancelled its substantial budget contribution to UNESCO in 2011 in protest at a decision to grant the Palestinians full membership.
The U.S. pulled out of UNESCO in the 1980s because Washington viewed it as mismanaged and used for political reasons, then rejoined it in 2003.