US "working tirelessly" to restore Unesco funding: Ambassador

PARIS (REUTERS) - The US government is working hard to get Congress to restore its Unesco funding, Washington's ambassador to the UN 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 organisation suspended US 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 furore has not helped.

US 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 US voting rights, insisting that Washington had a vital role to play in the organisation.

"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 US funding - which totalled about US$240 million (S$299 million), or some 22 per cent of Unesco's budget - has plunged it into a funding crisis and forced it to cut programmes.