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UNESCO suspends year-end projects due to U.S. funding cut

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 4:22 PM EST, Thu November 10, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • UNESCO faces a $65 million budget deficit
  • That deficit is due to U.S. funding cut, agency chief says
  • U.S. stopped the funding after UNESCO accepted Palestine as member

(CNN) -- UNESCO has suspended its projects and commitments until the end of year because the United States cut its $65 million funding in the wake of the agency's acceptance of Palestine for full membership, the agency's chief said Thursday.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said the agency's $65 million deficit is now its "most pressing issue."

"This deficit is the sum owed by the United States for the year 2011," Bokova said on the occasion of the closing of UNESCO's general conference.

"So we have to take drastic action, and we must take it now, at this general conference," Bokova said. "I have suspended all of our commitments. I have suspended our projects during this period of revision until the end of the year.

"We are reviewing all activities in all areas, in all sectors, including contractual commitments, staff travel, publications, communications costs, meetings, and the rest.

"With all these measures, we believe we can generate savings of $35 million. But this alone will not solve our problem," Bokova said.

UNESCO, meanwhile, started an emergency fund-raising drive for its working capital fund for 2012-2013, said spokeswoman Sue Williams.

Bokova said she is seeking an increase of the working capital fund that would be funded through an additional assessment to member states or through "voluntary advances that would be reimbursed at a later stage."

Last week, the United States announced it is cutting funding to UNESCO after the agency voted to accept a Palestinian bid for full membership.

The "vote by the member states of UNESCO to admit Palestine as member is regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive just and lasting peace in the Middle East," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Some U.S. lawmakers had called on the Obama administration to withhold funding to UNESCO if the measure was approved.

The lawmakers cited U.S. law, which states that funds must be denied to any organization granting the Palestine Liberation Organization "the same standing as member states."

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission to UNESCO said the United States contributes $80 million a year.

The U.S. contribution comprises 22% of the agency's funding in its regular budget, a spokeswoman for UNESCO said.

The membership vote, which required two-thirds approval by UNESCO members, passed with 107 in favor, 14 against, and 52 abstentions. The vote is separate from the Palestinian bid for full membership in the United Nations.

Huge applause broke out at the UNESCO meeting in Paris when the results of the vote were announced.

After the vote, Bokova said she was concerned for the financial stability of the organization, but added said the "admission of a new member state is a mark of respect and confidence."

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