Zain Verjee: Ambassador Killion, great to have you on the show. Why didn’t the US pay its does and have to give up its voting rights like that?
Ambassador Killion: Zain, it’s great to be here. The U.S. had to give up its voting rights at UNESCO because of two antiquated laws from the 1990’s that require us to cut funding to any UN agency that admits Palestine as a full member.
Zain Verjee: How is Congress going to fix this? I mean, the National Security Advisor herself has said that this is just shameful.
Ambassador Killion: Zain, the Obama administration has been engaged in a full court press to get this fixed in the Congress. As you may know, the President included funding in this year’s budget for UNESCO, and the battle over the federal budget is not over this year.
Zain Verjee: Now the U.S. was giving, what Ambassador, something like 70M dollars a year to UNESCO- that’s something like 22% of the organization’s budget. What kind of impact does the withdrawal of that kind of money have on the programs that UNESCO promotes?
Ambassador Killion: It has a massive impact, Zain, and this is very important because UNESCO is essentially an anti-extremism agency. It delivers the development of science in the developing world, provides literacy in frontline states. It brings kids to school that otherwise wouldn’t go to school in the developing world- in Africa, Asia and many other places.
Zain Verjee: What about U.S. influence here? I mean, through UN programs, the U.S. is able to exert influence, promote democracy, education for girls in environments that are harder to penetrate really. How much does this undermine American influence?
Ambassador Killion: Well, we’re staying engaged at UNESCO; we’re keeping our membership. But it is a handicap, and you’re absolutely right; in today’s globalized world, all emerging powers or great powers are fighting for influence at UNESCO. Think about this: UNESCO sets global standards for education- it helps developing countries to write their curricula.
Zain Verjee: How would you explain the situation to the girl in an education program somewhere across the world…? I mean, they don’t understand the politics of Washington. The great work that UNESCO, this is going to impact thousands and thousands of people. What would you tell them?
Ambassador Killion: I would tell them that the United States remains committed to UNESCO, that we’re going to support the agency in every possible way, and that my administration is fighting to get the funding restored.
Zain Verjee: And finally, what are the odds, you think, that Congress is going to fix this soon? Or is it going to be a battle that’s going to take a number of years?
Ambassador Killion: Zain, I think it’s critical that we fix this as soon as possible. There are critical equities for the United States on the line at UNESCO, and we need to solve this problem before it bleeds into other UN agencies.