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After UNESCO Palestine vote, could US defund nuclear watchdog IAEA, too?

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Adel Hana/AP

(Read caption) Palestinian schoolgirls in Gaza City walk past graffiti depicting UN humanitarian aid supplies Monday. Palestine became a full member of UNESCO, the UN's cultural and educational agency Monday, in a move that upset Israel and the United States.

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Yesterday's overwhelming vote by UNESCO to recognize Palestine as a full member was far more than a symbolic diplomatic defeat for the United States and Israel.

The UN culture and education agency was immediately defunded by the US, which was due to contribute $80 million to the organization this year, a little more than one-fifth of the UN body's budget. The Obama administration's decision was triggered by a 1994 US law that requires financial ties to be cut with any UN agency that accords the Palestinians full membership.

On its face, this may not seem a big deal for America. Ronald Reagan pulled the US out of UNESCO in 1984, and the country only rejoined in the fall of 2002 under George W. Bush, as his administration was courting UN support for military action against Iraq.

But the law that saw the US pull out of UNESCO would apply equally to any other UN agency – whether the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which plays a key role in monitoring nuclear proliferation in states like Iran, or the World Health Organization, where the US and other states intensively coordinate international efforts to deal with public health threats.


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