US First Lady says she is ‘proud’ of US return to UNESCO

Former president Donald Trump announced in 2017 that he was pulling the United States out of UNESCO, accusing the body of bias against Israel. The decision took effect...

US First Lady Jill Biden delivers a speech during a ceremony for the return of the United States to UNESCO after an over half decade absence at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, on July 25, 2023. – Jill Biden met French first lady earlier at the Elysee Palace and will head to the D-Day cemeteries in Normandy on July 26, 2023. (Photo by Aurelien Morissard / POOL / AFP)

US First Lady Jill Biden said on Tuesday she and her husband Joe were proud that their country had rejoined UNESCO, the UN cultural agency Washington had quit during the Trump administration.

In a speech at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Biden — on her first official visit to France since Joe Biden became US president — said that Washington’s “fight for our values like democracy and equality and human rights” was made easier with America being part of the global community.

“The United States cannot do it alone, but we must help lead the way. That’s why we’re so proud to rejoin UNESCO,” she said.

Former president Donald Trump announced in 2017 that he was pulling the United States out of UNESCO, accusing the body of bias against Israel. The decision took effect in 2018.

Audrey Azoulay, a former French culture minister who has headed UNESCO since 2017, made it a priority to bring the United States back.

Last month, an extraordinary session of the UN body’s General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for the country’s return, but there were dissenting voices, notably China and Russia.

The United States, a founding member of UNESCO, was a major contributor to its budget until 2011, when the body admitted Palestine as a member state.

That triggered an end to the contributions under US law, leading up to the formal withdrawal announcement six years later.

Until the suspension of its contributions in 2011, the United States paid about 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget, or $75 million.

The US Congress, then fully controlled by the Democratic Party, in December paved the way for the United States to restore funding, setting aside $150 million in the budget.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in March that the US absence from UNESCO was letting China write rules on artificial intelligence.

The United States had already withdrawn from UNESCO in 1984 — under president Ronald Reagan — and rejoined the organisation after almost 20 years in October 2003.

Washington will make payments over coming years to UNESCO to cover its debt, the organisation said last month.

Paris-based UNESCO is the United Nations’ educational, scientific and cultural organisation.

Its work includes compiling a list of world heritage sites, defending press freedom, promoting sustainable development and running education programmes.

Earlier Tuesday, Jill Biden met with French First Lady Brigitte Macron at the Elysee Palace.

She is on Wednesday to travel to an American Cemetery in northwestern France to pay tribute to US soldiers who died in World War II.

The final stage of Biden’s trip is the Mont Saint-Michel, a world heritage site, in the northwestern Normandy region.


© Agence France-Presse

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