Reporter stumps State Department spokeswoman on US cutting funds to UNESCO (video and full transcript)

Watch as reporter Matthew Lee with the Associated Press grills State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on the United States’ apparent disappointment with the UNESCO vote that welcomed Palestine as its newest full member state. The questions are straightforward and logical, and it becomes clear that the Obama administration is only concerned with Israel’s one-sided demands. The spokesperson eventually ends the questioning after being unable to address even the most basic loopholes in the United States’ stance.


Victoria Nuland: Today’s vote by the member states of UNESCO to admit Palestine as a member is regrettable, premature, and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East. The United States remains steadfast in its support for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. But such a state can only be realized through direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The United States also remains strongly committed to robust multilateral engagement across the UN system. However, Palestinian membership as a state in UNESCO triggers longstanding legislative restrictions which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNESCO. US engagement with UNESCO serves a wide range of our national interests on education, science, culture, and communications issues. The US will maintain its membership in and committment to UNESCO, and we will consult with Congress to ensure that US interests and influence are preserved.

Reporter: Does that mean that you have stopped, effectively, today contributing to UNESCO?

Victoria Nuland: It does.

Reporter: It does.

Victoria Nuland: We were to have made a sixty million dollar payment to UNESCO in November, and we will not be making that payment.

Reporter: Sorry, sixty million?

Victoria Nuland: Sixty million.

Reporter: And that is part of a tranche of the total of eighty?

Victoria Nuland: Correct.

Reporter: Alright. So, this is not particularly a banner day for US diplomacy. If you count the abstentions, you had a hundred and fifty-nine countries did not vote the way you did. But only thirteen did. That would seem to suggest that these countries don’t agree with you that this is such a big problem. Those countries included the French, France. They included numerous members of the Security Council. What happens to them? Now that you’re punishing UNESCO, what happens to these countries that voted in this “regrettable” way that is going to undermine the peace process?

Victoria Nuland: Those countries obviously made their own national decisions on this vote. We disagree with them. We made clear that we disagree with them before the vote. We make clear that we disagree with them after the vote. We also make clear here today that we want to continue our relationship with UNESCO. But as we said before this vote and as we have had to say, legislative restrictions compell us to withhold our funding now, and that will have an impact on UNESCO.

Reporter: But going back to what you said in your opening, you said that this was regrettable, premature, and undermines our shared goal. Whose shared goal? Who shares this goal other than the thirteen other countries that voted with you, now.

Victoria Nuland: Countries all over the international system share the goal of a Palestinian state in secure borders —

Reporter: Why would they possibly do something, how could they possibly do something that you say is so horrible and detrimental to that process. How can you still count on them as sharing this goal?

Victoria Nuland: You’ll have to speak to them about why they made the decision that they made. We considered that this was, as I said, regrettable, premature, and undermines the prospect of getting where we want to go. And that’s what we’re concerned about.

Reporter: Okay, and how does it undermine exactly the prospect of where you want to go?

Victoria Nuland: The concern is that it creates tensions when all of us should be concerting our efforts to get the parties back to the table.

Reporter: The only thing it does is it upsets Israel and it triggers this law that you said will require you to stop funding UNESCO. Is there anything else? There’s nothing that changes on the ground, is there?

Victoria Nuland: Our concern is that this could exacerbate the environment which we are trying to work through so that the parties will get back to the table.

Reporter: How exactly does it exacerbate the environment if it changes nothing on the ground unlike, say, construction of settlements. It changes nothing on the ground. It gives Palestine membership in UNESCO, which was a body the US was so unconcerned about for many years that it wasn’t even a member.

Victoria Nuland: Well, I think you know that this administration is committed to UNESCO, rejoined UNESCO, wants to see UNESCO’s work go forward.

Reporter: Actually, it was the last administration that rejoined UNESCO, not this one. But I need to have some kind of clarity on how this undermines the peace process — other than the fact that it upsets Israel.

Victoria Nuland: Again, we are trying to get both of these parties back to the table. That’s what we’ve been doing all along. That was the basis for the President’s speech in May, basis of the diplomacy that the Quartet did through the summer, the basis of the statement that the Quartet came out with in September. So in that context, we have been trying to improve the relationship between these parties, improve the environment between them, and we are concerned that we exacerbate tensions with this, and it makes it harder to get the parties back to the table.

Reporter: Since the talks broke off last September until today, how many times have they met together, with all your effort?

Victoria Nuland: How many times have the parties met?

Reporter: Yes.

Victoria Nuland: I think you know the answer to that question.

Reporter: Correct.

Victoria Nuland: It doesn’t change the fact that we are committed —

Reporter: So how can things get worse than they already are?

Victoria Nuland: Matt, I think you’re engaged in a polemic here rather than questions.

To read the transcript for the entire press briefing, including foreign policy issues outside of the UNESCO vote, click here.


There are 8 comments

  1. June Forsyth Kenagy

    Wonderful to see the reporter cut through all her weasel words… right to the truth, actually the lack of truth in anything she said!

  2. Stewart Mills (Sydney, Australia)

    Well done Matthew Lee for your courage and daring as a journalist to hold the the US State Department to account. What an absurd decision to cut funding to UNESCO. Why penalise the international community when the real culprit goes untouched? Why is it all carrots for Israel and no stick? And yet the US dishes out more stick to the PAlestinians and the international community? If there is ever to be peace in the region the US must separate the Holocaust from Israel. They are two quite separate ideas. The Holocaust does not give Israel carte blanche to do no evil. The last 60 years have shown how very quickly an oppressed people can become an oppressor. The US cannot continue to blindly look the other way. Appeasement did not work for Germany and it is not working for Israel. Every decade that passes the settler movement becomes more radicalised. It is frightening to see the venom that is developing amongst this community. They exist in another moral universe and it is time that justice and compassion is brought back into the equation. The Palestinian people need to be free.

  3. ddapriori

    One needs to take a deep breath and sit down in order to work through this fiasco. The US explained to the international community that it would cut funding for UNESCO if, in effect, that community did not vote the US way on Palestinian membership, So the US attempted to strongarm the community of nations committed to UNESCO (unlike the US.) That strategy did not work because the community voted overwhelming against the US position. So, the US cuts major funding for UNESCO which, as an organization hardly a party to the IPC and the cut in funding does nothing one way or the other regarding the Palestine situation. The US therewith proves that it is not interested in UNESCO after all and it doesn’t care about international consensus regarding Palestinian admittance. And this passes for “foreign policy”.in the US. It staggers the mind. The US might have said, well we lost this one, but we will not cut funding because we really care about the international community and about UNESCO. Instead of this major step forward for American prestige worldwide, the US cuts funding and goes home angry really with itself for being so stupid. It will take many times more than $60 million to dig the US out of the isolation caused by Israel. Unless you count Micronesia as a power player in global politics, the US is virtually alone on this one.

  4. Lloyd

    The worst offense that can be committed by a polemic is to stigmatize those who hold a contrary opinion as bad and immoral men.
    —John Stuart Mill, 1806-73

  5. Vincent Nunes

    If there ever was a better example of our not having an even-handed policy in regards to the Middle East, I haven’t seen it as of yet.

    Kudos to AP JOURNALIST Matthew Lee for asking the tough questions, and not merely being a stenographer.

  6. Bradley

    Thank God there are a few strong, idependent-minded journalists left who will cut to the heart of the content from lying, mealy-mouthed US Sate Department spokespeople. Matthew Lee made the US position look the way it actually is in this case: on the WRONG side, weak, and obfuscating.

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