American scientists contend that they will lose access to international research. Two congressmen have urged a year’s delay. And last week a 90-member private citizen’s group added its voice to a chorus of appeals against the Reagan administration’s plan to leave the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Dec. 31. But the appeals were unsuccessful. This week Washington will confirm the decision it made a year ago to leave the 161-member aid agency—and withdraw its 25per-cent contribution to UNESCO’s $187million annual budget — unless “concrete changes materialize.” As Gregory J. Newell, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, told a U.S. Senate panel last week, “Those changes have not occurred.”
In fact, Newell cited the Carter administration’s departure from the International Labor Organization in 1977—and its subsequent return in 1980—in arguing that withdrawal may be the only way to force UNESCO to make what even its supporters concede are overdue reforms. If the United States now reversed itself, said Owen Harries, a former Australian ambassador to UNESCO, it would “invite derision and contempt.” Britain has said it will follow the U.S. lead and give UNESCO the required 12-month notice of withdrawal. Other members may take similar action. Canada is also critical of the agency, but will continue to work for reforms from within.
To avert more departures from the Paris-based agency, pressure has been building for the resignation of UNESCO’s director-general, Amadou Mahtar M’Bow. At last week’s Franco-African summit in Burundi, French President François Mitterrand urged African leaders to arrange a face-saving exit for the 63-year-old M’Bow. His term, critics charge, has been marked by anti-Western bias, waste and inefficiency. At one point, M’Bow hired a Washington lobbying firm at $15,000 a month to polish his agency’s image. UN supporters say that the U.S. action will accelerate a trend toward tying aid to political aims. But Washington is no longer willing to fund programs that undercut its policies. Stressing that point, Washington is now reconsidering its membership in yet another UN body, the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization.
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