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U.S. 'working tirelessly' to restore UNESCO funding: ambassador

The logo of UNESCO is seen inside the headquarters in Paris, September 29, 2003.
The logo of UNESCO is seen inside the headquarters in Paris, September 29, 2003.

PARIS (Reuters) - The U.S. government is working hard to get Congress to restore its UNESCO funding, Washington's ambassador to the U.N. cultural arm said on Saturday, after its voting rights were suspended over failure to pay up.

UNESCO's granting the Palestinians membership two years ago led to the United States stopping its dues and, on Friday, the organization suspended U.S. voting rights as well as Israel's.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have made grim assessments of the lack of progress in peace talks, which the United States helped revive last July after a three-year gap, and the UNESCO funding furor has not helped.

U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO David Killion told delegates at UNESCO's biennial general conference in Paris, after the suspension was announced officially, that Washington was "working tirelessly" to restore funding.

Also addressing the conference, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova voiced regret at the loss of the U.S. voting rights, insisting that Washington had a vital role to play in the organization.

"This is not only about financing. This is about values. This is the 'smart power' that is in such need today, to lay the foundations for lasting peace and sustainable development," she said.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, is responsible for designating World Heritage sites, promoting global education and supporting press freedom, among other tasks.

The withdrawal of U.S. funding - which totaled about $240 million, or some 22 percent of UNESCO's budget - has plunged it into a funding crisis and forced it to cut programs.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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