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US withdraws from UNESCO, the UN's cultural organization, citing anti-Israel bias

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The United States plans to withdraw from UNESCO, citing financial reasons, as well as what it said was an anti-Israel bias at the U.N.'s educational, cultural and science organization.

The decision to withdraw from UNESCO, which the United States helped found, was announced Thursday morning by the State Department, which said the United States would remain involved as a nonmember observer. It will take effect at the end of 2018.

It marks yet another decision by the United States to distance itself from some parts of the international community.

Some of the United States's closest allies are among UNESCO's 195 members. France's U.N. ambassador, Francois Delattre, had urged the United States to remain in UNESCO this week, saying the United States "must stay committed to world affairs."

UNESCO was established after World War II to help promote the free flow of information. It is perhaps best known for the World Heritage program, which helps preserve cultural sites of import around the globe.

But the United States has at times had an ambivalent relationship with the Paris-based organization. The government stopped paying its dues in 2011 after UNESCO voted to include the Palestinian Authority as a member.

And senior Trump administration officials - including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley - have been critical of the organization.

Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, expressed "profound regret" after the State Department announced its decision. "Universality is critical to UNESCO's mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity," she said in a statement.