UNESCO votes to readmit the U.S.

The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is seen above a bunch of flags
The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is seen during the 39th session of the General Conference at the UNESCO headquarters in 2017.
(Christophe Ena / Associated Press)

The United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization has agreed to readmit the United States as a member.

UNESCO’s governing board voted 132-10 on Friday to accept the U.S. proposal to rejoin the Paris-based agency.

America’s membership will become official once Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken or a designee formally accepts the invitation, according to Biden administration officials.


Blinken said the vote would “restore U.S. leadership on a host of issues of importance and value to the American people.”

“I am encouraged and grateful that today the membership accepted our proposal, which will allow the United States to take the next, formal steps toward fully rejoining the organization,” he said in a statement.

Russian, Palestinian and North Korean representatives had held up consideration of the U.S. proposal on Thursday with hours of procedural delays.

That session was adjourned due to fatigue on the part of UNESCO interpreters.

In addition to Russia, North Korea and the Palestinians, those that voted against readmitting the U.S. were Belarus, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Nicaragua and Syria.

The Biden administration had announced in early June that it would apply to rejoin the organization mainly because it was concerned that China was filling a gap left by the U.S. absence from the body. The 193-member UNESCO plays a major role in setting international standards for artificial intelligence and technology education around the world.

The U.S. plans to rejoin UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural and scientific arm, and will pay more than $600 million in back dues after a decade-long dispute.

June 12, 2023

The Trump administration in 2017 announced that the U.S. would withdraw from UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias. That decision took effect a year later.


The U.S. and Israel stopped financing UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011.

The Biden administration has requested $150 million for the 2024 budget to go toward UNESCO dues and arrears. The plan foresees similar requests for the ensuing years until the full debt of $619 million is paid off.

That makes up a big chunk of UNESCO’s $534-million annual operating budget. Before leaving, the U.S. contributed 22% of the agency’s overall funding.

Israel has long accused the United Nations of anti-Israel bias. In 2012, over Israeli objections, the state of Palestine was recognized as a nonmember observer state by the General Assembly.

The Palestinians claim the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War — for an independent state. Israel says the Palestinians’ efforts to win recognition at the U.N. are aimed at circumventing a negotiated settlement and meant to pressure Israel into concessions.

The United States pulled out of UNESCO under the Reagan administration in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests.


It rejoined in 2003, during former President George W. Bush’s tenure.

Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.