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U.S. seen withdrawing from U.N.'s cultural agency - diplomats

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U.S. seen withdrawing from U.N.'s cultural agency - diplomats

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By John Irish PARIS (Reuters) – The United States plans to withdraw from UNESCO, the U.N.‘s cultural and educational agency, diplomats said on Thursday, dealing a further blow to an organisation hobbled by regional rivalries and a lack of funds. Paris-based UNESCO, which began work in 1946, is known for designating World Heritage sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park. It will pick a new chief this week to try to revive its fortunes. Three diplomats said the United States — which cancelled its substantial budget contribution to UNESCO in 2011 in protest at a decision to grant the Palestinians full membership — would announce its decision in the coming days. “It’s not formal yet, but it’s true,” said a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. A representative of the U.S. delegation to UNESCO referred Reuters to the State Department. UNESCO declined to comment. Foreign Policy magazine reported earlier on Thursday that Washington would formally withdraw after the 58-member UNESCO Executive Board selects its new director general on Friday. The magazine said the decision was aimed at saving money and to protest what the U.S believes is UNESCO’s anti-Israel stance. The United States, which has contributed around $80 million a year to UNESCO, accounting for around a fifth of its budget, still has a vote on the board and is expected to keep an observer status at the organisation. President Donald Trump has in general been critical of the United Nations and complained about the cost and value to the United States of some of its affiliate institutions. “The absence of the United States or any large country with a lot of power is a loss. It’s not just about money, it’s promoting ideals that are vital to countries like the United States, such as education and culture,” a UNESCO-based diplomat said. For differing reasons, Britain, Japan and Brazil are among states that have yet to pay their dues for 2017. After three days of secret balloting that could run until Friday, Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari and France’s Audrey Azoulay are tied to win the top post at the organisation, with Egyptian hopeful Moushira Khattab in third. Two other candidates trail. Voting lasts over a maximum five rounds. If the two finalists end level, they draw lots.

(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Luke Baker and Ralph Boulton)
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