PARIS (AP) — U.S. first lady Jill Biden visited Paris on Tuesday to attend a flag-raising ceremony at UNESCO, marking Washington’s official reentry into the U.N. agency after a five-year hiatus.
Before the Stars and Stripes is hoisted up outside UNESCO’s headquarters, Biden will make remarks about the importance of American leadership in preserving cultural heritage and empowering education and science across the globe.
The U.S. had announced its intention to rejoin UNESCO in June, and the organization’s 193 member states earlier this month voted to approve the U.S. reentry. Tuesday’s ceremony, which will also feature a speech by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, will formally signify the U.S. becoming the 194th member — and flag proprietor — at the agency.
Azoulay had welcomed the US return, emphasizing that it’s significant for multilateralism as a whole. The momentum of UNESCO, she said, will grow with the reintegration of the U.S., thereby strengthening the organization’s initiatives throughout the world.
The U.S. decision to return to Paris-based UNESCO was based mainly on concerns that China has filled a leadership gap since Washington withdrew during the Trump administration. This development underscores the broader geopolitical dynamics at play, particularly the growing influence of China in international institutions.
The U.S. exit from UNESCO in 2017 cited an alleged anti-Israel bias within the organization. The decision followed a 2011 move by UNESCO to include Palestine as a member state, which led the U.S. and Israel to cease financing the agency. The U.S. withdrawal became official a year later in 2018.
In preparation for its return, the Biden administration requested $150 million for the 2024 budget to go toward UNESCO dues and arrears, with plans for similar requests in the ensuing years until the full debt of $619 million is paid off. This represents a significant portion of UNESCO’s annual operating budget of $534 million, highlighting the substantial financial role the U.S. played in the agency before its departure.
Before its withdrawal, the U.S. was the single biggest funder of UNESCO, contributing 22% of the agency’s overall funding. This is the second time the U.S. has returned to UNESCO after a period of withdrawal. The country previously left the organization in 1984 under the Reagan administration, citing mismanagement, corruption and perceived advancement of Soviet interests. It rejoined in 2003 under George W. Bush’s presidency.
Biden, who teaches English and writing at a Virginia community college, brings with her a passion for education and personal experience in the field to represent the United States in Paris on Tuesday. In the following days, her visit will also serve to pay tribute to American history and cultural heritage in France.
On Wednesday, Biden will go to the Brittany American Cemetery to honor the U.S. soldiers who lost their lives during World War II. This tribute will serve as a solemn reminder of the shared history and sacrifices that bind the U.S. and France together.
She will conclude her trip to France at the renowned Mont-Saint-Michel, a UNESCO world heritage site, to underscore the importance of preserving cultural heritage locations around the world. Her visit to the iconic site will serve to highlight the shared global responsibility in safeguarding the world’s cultural and natural heritage, according to her program.