Officials: U.S. to Retain Leadership Role at UNESCO Despite Flap Over Palestine Seat

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech during a luncheon at UNESCO in Paris, France, October 18, 2015. Credit: AP

The United States has succeeded in its bid to remain on UNESCO's executive board, the only way to wield American power at the world's cultural and scientific agency now that the U.S. government is no longer funding it.

The victory follows a U.S. diplomatic charm offensive aimed at seeing off resistance to its re-election. Following a recent visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Paris-based UNESCO, rival Switzerland withdrew its candidacy and a Monday morning deadline expired for others to throw their hats into the ring — paving the way for American re-election.

The U.S. bid to remain on the board was expected to run into choppy waters after it stopped paying its dues following the body's decision to admit Palestine in 2011. U.S. law prohibits contributions to international organizations that recognize Palestinian statehood.

As a result of its financial arrears, the U.S. lost its vote in UNESCO's general conference in 2013. The seat on the executive board was thus the last remaining formal tool of American influence at the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which the U.S. co-founded in 1945 following World War II.

UNESCO diplomat Michael Worbs told The Associated Press that no other country submitted candidacy by a 9am deadline Monday to challenge the U.S. seat.

That means there are six candidates for the six board seats assigned to Western Europe and North America — making Wednesday's vote on the re-election at the agency's biennial general conference a formality.

The U.S. delegation to UNESCO is not commenting ahead of Wednesday's formal vote.

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