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White House urges Congress to regain U.S. UNESCO vote

U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice looks up during a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Japanese Prime Minister Shin
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice looks up during a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Japanese Prime Minister Shin

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House national security adviser Susan Rice on Saturday urged Congress to allow the United States to regain its vote at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, which it lost for not paying dues.

"Shameful that US has lost its vote at #UNESCO," Rice wrote on Twitter. "Congress needs to fix this. Current law doesn't punish the Palestinians; it handicaps the US."

UNESCO on Friday suspended the voting rights of the United States and Israel, two years after both countries stopped paying dues to the U.N. cultural arm to protest its granting full membership to the Palestinians.

The U.S. decision to cancel its funding in October 2011 was blamed on American laws that prohibit funding to any U.N. agency that implies recognition of the Palestinians' demands for their own state.

The withdrawal of U.S. funding - which totaled about $240 million, or some 22 percent of UNESCO's budget - has plunged it into a funding crisis and forced it to cut programs.

UNESCO is responsible for designating World Heritage sites, promoting global education and supporting press freedom, among other tasks.

Analysts have said that by losing its vote, the United States is foregoing and important opportunity to exercise "soft power" - the ability to exert international influence through other means than brute force or money. That gap is likely to be filled by other emerging global powers, such as China, they say.

"UNESCO directly advances U.S. interests in supporting girls' and women's education, facilitating important scientific research, promoting tolerance, protecting and preserving the world's natural and cultural heritage, supporting freedom of the press, and much more," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.

It is not the first time the United States has been at odds with UNESCO.

Washington withdrew from the agency in 1984, complaining of wasteful bureaucracy and a Third World bias.

Under the leadership of Senegal's Amadou Mbow, UNESCO promoted a controversial "new world information order" that the Western press saw as a bid to muzzle it.

The administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan accused it of serving as a forum for Third World criticism of the United States and Israel.

The United States rejoined the agency in 2002 under President George W. Bush, who said it had undertaken needed reforms.

(Reporting By Mark Felsenthal)

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