White House backs off plan to rejoin UNESCO

January 01, 1995|By New York Times News Service

UNITED NATIONS -- For two years the Clinton administration has been promising to rejoin UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The United States left the agency in 1984, charging it with mismanagement and anti-Western bias.

The money needed to make the move -- about $65 million for the first year's dues -- was in the State Department's 1996 budget request, which went to the White House in the fall. The department said UNESCO, under a new director general since 1987, had made most of the changes Washington demanded.

But after the November elections, when Republicans critical of the United Nations took control of Congress, the allocation for UNESCO membership was quietly dropped in a White House budget review.

Administration officials say the decision not to rejoin was largely financial. Critics of the change in plans say it was a political overreaction that dooms U.S. membership for the foreseeable future.

"This is not an indictment of UNESCO in any way," said Douglas Bennet, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs. "And I hope it's not a permanent decision. It just reflects an unfinished struggle over our major priorities."

He added that proponents of membership would have to do a better job "making a case for UNESCO instead of something else in the budget."

The State Department budget request will be around $2 billion, about the same as the current budget.

Critics of the decision to close the door to UNESCO just as the United Nations prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary say the move sends the wrong message to other agencies in need of reform. They say the United States, having jolted UNESCO into making fundamental changes, is now in effect walking away from further involvement.

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