US regrets losing UNESCO voting rights

The United States Friday expressed "regret" at losing voting rights at UNESCO, two years after Washington and Israel stopped funding the UN cultural body over Palestinian admission.

Congressional restrictions on US payment of UNESCO dues were triggered when the Palestinians gained membership to the Paris-based body as a state in 2011.

"We regret that today the United States lost its vote in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) General Conference," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

In a statement, she however noted that "a loss of vote in the General Conference is not a loss of US membership," and said the United States intends to continue its active participation.

Psaki said US President Barack Obama had asked Congress for "legislative authority to allow the United States to continue to pay its dues to UN agencies that admit the Palestinians as a member state when doing so is in the US national interest."

Under UNESCO rules, the US and Israel had until Friday to pay their dues or automatically lose voting rights.

"The list of countries that will lose their voting rights will be announced probably tomorrow (Saturday) in a plenary session," a UNESCO source told AFP.

But neither the United States nor Israel "presented the necessary documentation this morning to avoid losing their right to vote," the source said on condition of anonymity.

UNESCO, whose budget was 22 percent funded by US contributions, has faced a financial crisis since the two countries stopped paying.

Washington had previously withdrawn from UNESCO between 1984 and 2003.

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