WASHINGTON — First lady Jill Biden is in France and is scheduled to address Tuesday at a UNESCO ceremony marking the United States’ return to the world organization after more than four years of absence.
The United States formally withdrew from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in December 2018 over what the Trump administration saw as anti-Israel bias and the need for «fundamental reform.» Previously, the US halted funding for UNESCO when the organization voted to grant membership to Palestine in 2011.
But UNESCO’s absence was «harming our interests» and the organization has made «much-needed reforms,» a senior administration official said in a call to reporters last week.
The United States announced its decision to rejoin the organization in June and was re-accepted shortly after.
The first lady will deliver comments at a flag-raising ceremony Tuesday marking the return of the United States. His trip is the latest step in the Biden administration’s efforts to rejoin the multilateral organizations that former President Donald Trump left.
«Some of the greatest challenges of our time cannot be solved in isolation,» the first lady will say, according to an excerpt from her prepared remarks. “Of course, we have to take care of our own citizens. But we are also part of a global community. And if we don’t sit in that coalition, we can’t fight for our values, like democracy, equality and human rights.»
In 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States would rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council, a move that was formalized at the begin for a three-year term beginning in January 2022.
The United States withdrew from the Council in 2018 during the Trump administration, with then-UN ambassador Nikki Haley citing «chronic bias against Israel.»
Biden reinstated the Paris Agreement addressing climate change, which the Trump administration announced its intention to withdraw in 2017. The United States formally exited the pact just one day after the 2020 election.
“As President Biden has frequently noted, America is stronger, more secure, and more prosperous when we engage with the rest of the world and when we seek cooperation, collaboration, and partnership,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying in a June press release. «By rejoining UNESCO, the United States would reinforce that message and restore our leadership in a vital international space.»
Senior administration officials framed the first lady’s trip as a milestone in restoring America’s leadership on the international stage.
“We also recognize that when we don’t appear in these organizations, other countries will fill the void,” said a senior administration official.
“If we are not in the room, we cannot go back,” the official added. «And if we don’t show up, we can’t fight for the American people and defend our allies abroad from unfair attacks.»
During the trip, you’ll also visit Mont-Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the Brittany American Cemetery in Normandy to honor American service members who died during World War II. He will also meet France’s first lady, Brigitte Macron, on Tuesday.
A senior administration official listed US priorities at UNESCO, including investments in Holocaust education, preservation of cultural heritage in Ukraine, the safety of journalists and STEM education for women and girls in Africa.