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 could lose international influence as it would lose its right to vote in the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization if it makes no payments over the next two years.
"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 a total annual US contribution of $80 million (57 million euros) 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, 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 decision to withhold 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.
She conceded that one option would be to gain some sort of flexibility where Washington can still fund UNESCO.
Nuland said the United States is also concerned it could lose influence with other UN organizations if the Palestinians are admitted to them as a full member and Washington is automatically forced to withhold funds.
"We are very concerned about it, which is why we didn't want it to happen in the first place and why we're concerned about this move being replicated in other UN agencies," she said.
State Department and other US officials met business leaders on Monday to warn them that Palestinian membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization could hurt US leadership in the group, the State Department said.
They noted that the organization helps US firms protect their intellectual property rights worldwide, it said.