U.S. freeze over Palestine cripples U.N. agency

Washington’s suspension of dues to the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization after Palestine became a formal member last year has left the agency grappling with a funding crisis, and the United States risks losing its membership.

Secretary General Irina Bokova describes the 2011 funding freeze by the agency’s largest contributor as crippling, leaving it with a $152-million budget gap.

“And because the U.S. always pays at the end of the year, always, we have already spent this money in the expectation that the U.S. was going to pay,” she said. “So it was very unexpected, drastic, and that is why I dare say it was the worst-ever financial situation for the organization.”

Washington suspended payments last October, after the Paris-based U.N. agency voted to admit Palestine as its newest member. The event marked a watershed for Palestinian statehood efforts. The U.S. government is legally required to cut funds to any U.N. agency that recognizes a Palestinian state.

Ms. Bokova describes UNESCO as the victim of politics.

“I think UNESCO was caught in the middle of this political turmoil of Middle Eastern conflict, and I think this is unfair because this is not the way some of the solutions of the Middle Eastern conflict could be found,” she said.

Saudia Arabia, Qatar, Norway and many other member states have since boosted their contributions to help fill the hole, but Ms. Bokova called the funding situation unsustainable, as Washington’s dues normally account for about 20 percent of the agency’s budget.

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