gettyimages 125674950 The US just pulled its UNESCO membership

A logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is displayed in front of the organization headquarters on September 14, 2011. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS — The Latest on the U.S. decision to pull out of UNESCO (all times local):

3:30 p.m.

The director of UNESCO is expressing “profound regret” at the U.S. government’s decision to pull out of the U.N. cultural agency because of what’s seen as longstanding anti-Israel bias.

Director-general Irina Bokova said in a statement that the departure is a loss for “the United Nations family” and for multilateralism. She said the U.S. and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now because “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism calls for new long-term responses for peace and security.”

A native of Bulgaria, Bokova defended UNESCO’s reputation, noting its efforts to support Holocaust education and train teachers to fight anti-Semitism. She traced the decades-long U.S. ties with UNESCO, and noted that the Statue of Liberty is among the many World Heritage sites protected by the U.N. agency.

Bokova’s two terms as director have been deeply scarred by the 2011 UNESCO vote to include Palestine as a member, funding troubles and repeated resolutions seen as anti-Israel.

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3:15 p.m.

The State Department says the U.S. is pulling out of UNESCO because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and need for “fundamental reform” of the U.N. cultural agency.

In a statement, the State Department said it notified UNESCO director Irina Bokova on Thursday of the decision. The U.S. will seek to have a “permanent observer” status instead.

It says the withdrawal will take effect Dec. 31, 2018. The United States suspended its UNESCO funding in 2011 over its vote to include Palestine as a member, and now owes about $550 million in back payments.

U.S. officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and that it was not discussed with other countries but an internal U.S. government deliberation.

The officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue, said U.S. is notably angry over UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish connections to holy sites and references to Israel as an occupying power.

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2:40 p.m.

U.S. officials have told The Associated Press that the United States is pulling out of UNESCO, after repeated criticism of resolutions by the U.N. cultural agency that Washington sees as anti-Israel.

While the U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011, the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office at its Paris headquarters and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. The withdrawal was confirmed Thursday by U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to be publicly named discussing the decision. It was not clear when the move would be formally announced.

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.

 

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