WASHINGTON — The United States said Monday it is stopping financial contributions to UNESCO after the Palestinians were admitted to the organization as a full member.
The United States also acknowledged that it would lose its right to vote in UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization if it makes no payments over the next two years, saying the Obama administration will need to consult Congress about the impact on US interests.
"We were to have made a 60 million dollar payment to UNESCO in November and we will not be making that payment," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
Nuland said the Palestinian admission "triggers longstanding (US) legislative restrictions which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNESCO."
The United States, Israel's top ally, in the 1990s banned the financing of any UN organization that accepts Palestine as a full member. The United States provides about 22 percent of the UNESCO annual budget.
The November payment amounts to a tranche of what US officials say is total a annual US contribution of $80 million to the UN organization.
Nuland echoed earlier remarks by the White House which said UNESCO's admission of the Palestinians as a full member was "premature" and undermined international peace efforts and hopes of direct talks on a Palestinian state.
The vote "is regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East," Nuland said.
The vote, backed by 107 countries in UNESCO, was a symbolic victory for the Palestinian drive towards full statehood recognition.
But the United States, which has vowed to block a separate Palestinian call for statehood recognition at the UN Security Council, believes the campaign detracts from tough bargaining needed with Israel on the terms of a Palestinian state.
Nuland said the United States is aware its own interests could be undermined by its withholding funding to UNESCO.
"Under UNESCO's constitution, a member state will have no vote in the general conference if it gets more than two years in arrears in its contribution. So our actual arrearage status will begin in January," she said.
"We now need to have consultations with Congress," she said.
"Not paying our dues into these organizations could severely restrict and reduce our ability to influence them, our ability to act within them, and we think this affects US interests," Nuland said.
"So we need to have conversations with Congress about what options might be available to protect our interests," she said, declining to elaborate.