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Friday December 15th, 2017 2:32PM

The Latest: Israel calls US decision 'turning point' for UN

By The Associated Press
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PARIS (AP) — The Latest on the U.S. decision to pull out of UNESCO (all times local):

Israel's U.N. ambassador is calling the United States' withdrawal from UNESCO "a turning point."

Danny Danon said in a statement that the United Nation's education, cultural and scientific agency now knows that its "absurd and shameful resolutions against Israel have consequences."

Danon said: "Today is a new day at the U.N., where there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel."

The United States announced Thursday that it is pulling out of UNESCO because of what the Trump administration sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for "fundamental reform."

Danon praised the U.S. decision. He says: "The United States stands by Israel and is a true leader for change at the U.N."

Danon added: "The alliance between our two countries is stronger than ever."

UNESCO extended membership to Palestine in 2011.

Danon said: "UNESCO has become a battlefield for Israel-bashing and has disregarded its true role and purpose."

___

5:35 p.m.

The decision by the United States to exit the United Nations' cultural agency is rattling other countries who say the move will harm the struggling UNESCO.

France's ambassador to the U.N., Francois Delattre, said UNESCO's ideals are "part of America's DNA" and that "we need an America that stays committed to world affairs."

Tatiana Dovgalenko, Russia's deputy permanent representative to the agency, told The Associated Press that the departure of "one of the countries that founded the U.N. system" is "a shock and a pity."

However, Dovgalenko insists there won't be a power vacuum.

She said: "Countries like us and China have our influence already."

Washington says it is withdrawing because of what it sees as anti-Israel bias in UNESCO resolutions and the agency's need for reform.

___

3:30 p.m.

The director of UNESCO is expressing "profound regret" at the U.S. government's decision to pull out of the U.N. cultural agency because of what's seen as longstanding anti-Israel bias.

Director-general Irina Bokova said in a statement that the departure is a loss for "the United Nations family" and for multilateralism. She said the U.S. and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now because "the rise of violent extremism and terrorism calls for new long-term responses for peace and security."

A native of Bulgaria, Bokova defended UNESCO's reputation, noting its efforts to support Holocaust education and train teachers to fight anti-Semitism. She traced the decades-long U.S. ties with UNESCO, and noted that the Statue of Liberty is among the many World Heritage sites protected by the U.N. agency.

Bokova's two terms as director have been deeply scarred by the 2011 UNESCO vote to include Palestine as a member, funding troubles and repeated resolutions seen as anti-Israel.

____

3:15 p.m.

The State Department says the U.S. is pulling out of UNESCO because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and need for "fundamental reform" of the U.N. cultural agency.

In a statement, the State Department said it notified UNESCO director Irina Bokova on Thursday of the decision. The U.S. will seek to have a "permanent observer" status instead.

It says the withdrawal will take effect Dec. 31, 2018. The United States suspended its UNESCO funding in 2011 over its vote to include Palestine as a member, and now owes about $550 million in back payments.

U.S. officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and that it was not discussed with other countries but an internal U.S. government deliberation.

The officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue, said U.S. is notably angry over UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish connections to holy sites and references to Israel as an occupying power.

____

2:40 p.m.

U.S. officials have told The Associated Press that the United States is pulling out of UNESCO, after repeated criticism of resolutions by the U.N. cultural agency that Washington sees as anti-Israel.

While the U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011, the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office at its Paris headquarters and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. The withdrawal was confirmed Thursday by U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to be publicly named discussing the decision. It was not clear when the move would be formally announced.

The decision comes as the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is voting to choose a new director this week, in tense balloting overshadowed by the agency's funding troubles and divisions over Palestinian membership.

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