Thank you Mr. President, President of the General Conference, Director General, Excellencies.
In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly during its 70th Anniversary, President Obama highlighted the international community’s many accomplishments, including diplomatic cooperation between the world’s major powers, a global economy that has lifted more than a billion people out of poverty; the spread of democracy and development on every continent, diseases conquered, and hunger abated.
Nonetheless, we face significant global challenges, including radical terror networks and the increased threat of foreign fighters; to human suffering and the flight of refugees; devastating destruction and looting of cultural artifacts to attacks on journalists and suppression of dissent; a warming planet to persistent economic and gender inequality. Adding to this daunting list is the fact that 126 million children are not in school.
As President Obama has noted, the scale of these problems has drawn criticism from some quarters that the ideals enshrined in the United Nations charter are unachievable or outmoded; that the organization is a dated legacy of a long-gone postwar era, and is unable to address present needs.
UNESCO has faced similar skeptics who doubt the efficacy of an organization dedicated to international cooperation through education, science and culture.
But to these deniers of the value of multilateral engagement, my government’s response is unequivocal: the mandate of UNESCO to build peace in the minds of men and women has never been more relevant or more pressing.
Recognizing UNESCO’s role in promoting peace and security, the United States recently invited the Director-General to speak at the UN Leaders’ Summit on UNESCO’s use of education as a tool to combat violent extremism. On November 6th, with the support of the United States and other partners, UNESCO will bring Education Ministers together to discuss the kinds of tools needed to equip young people to resist violent extremism and embrace global citizenship.
Our draft resolution, co-sponsored by over 40 delegations, aims at solidifying and enhancing UNESCO’s role in this crucial area. Clearly, we need a new, bold approach that diverts impressionable young people from taking up arms or strapping on suicide bombs.
Given UNESCO’s engagement on a spectrum of strategic, urgent issues, it is not surprising that so many countries are vying for a place on its Executive Board. As a founding member of this organization, America understands and shares that interest. One overarching consideration prompted – indeed compelled – our conclusion that we should seek to preserve our leadership role: UNESCO embodies values and priorities that resonate deeply with the United States.
For the 27 years I have known him, Barack Obama has pursued the values and priorities he believes are right. So much of what his Administration has been able to accomplish reflects an understanding that through dialogue, collaboration and relentless determination, we can make significant progress. Just look at what we have been able to accomplish applying those principles with our partners in the UN system –from reaching an historic deal with Iran to combatting the threat of Ebola in West Africa.
Secretary of State John Kerry will come to UNESCO this Sunday for the exclusive purpose of discussing with Ambassadors at a luncheon our commitment to advancing the organization’s work. His visit speaks volumes about the importance we attach to this institution. And so we must. All over the world, hurting, desperate, forgotten people need real help, and we must continue — every single day — to find creative and effective ways to bring them the very best UNESCO can offer.
That requires innovation – not only in the field but also among ourselves, with improvements in our governance that will create opportunities for more strategic discussions and better follow-up of decisions. We believe America has a great deal to contribute to that mission including the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
At the same time, we understand the importance of being a full partner with this organization,6and in standing for reelection, we reiterate our determination to find a solution to our funding limitations.
But even as we work to address these challenges, I firmly believe that right now, even with our constraints, my government’s commitment to this institution has never, ever been stronger.
So as you consider the future of UNESCO and its leadership going forward, we hope you will count us in – not out. The United States of America and UNESCO, together, can still do big things. Les Etats-Unis, ensemble avec l’UNESCO, peuvent faire de grandes choses. Merci.