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Obama administration to seek waiver on UNESCO funding ban

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration formally announced its intention to ask Congress to waive a ban on funding UNESCO over its recognition of Palestinian statehood.

"The Department of State intends to work with Congress to seek legislation that would provide authority to waive restrictions on paying the U.S. assessed contributions to UNESCO," says a footnote in the budget that the White House submitted to Congress this month.

The footnote was quoted in a press release issued Wednesday by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, who says she plans to oppose such a waiver.

U.S. funding for UNESCO, the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organization, was stopped late last year because of laws banning U.S. funding of any international organization that recognizes Palestinian statehood in the absence of a peace agreement with Israel.

The Palestinians launched a bid last year to achieve statehood recognition through the U.N. and its affiliates.

The bid’s virtually only success was with UNESCO, which granted the Palestinians membership. But after the U.S. stopped funding for the body, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned against Palestinian efforts to push for recognition in other U.N. bodies.

At the time, State Department officials had suggested they would seek a waiver on the funding ban.

Ros-Lehtinen said that waiving the provision could start the statehood ball rolling again.

"Any effort to walk back this funding cutoff will pave the way for the Palestinian leadership’s unilateral statehood scheme to drive on, and sends a disastrous message that the U.S. will fund UN bodies no matter what irresponsible decisions they make," she said in a statement.

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