- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

The head of UNESCO has invited the United States to rejoin the U.N. agency, saying it has reformed its budgetary mismanagement and is no longer anti-West.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Director-General Koichiro Matsuura said that since his appointment in November 1999, he has cut the agency's bureaucracy by half and instituted strong internal oversight systems of auditing, inspection and program evaluation.

The elimination of nearly half of the 200 senior positions led to a hunger strike by disgruntled staff last year. But "I did not want to give in," as such reforms were necessary, he said Tuesday.

A spokesman for Rep. Amo Houghton said that the congressman recognized these changes in UNESCO. Mr. Houghton supports the U.S. return to UNESCO because more reforms can be shaped from the "inside than outside," said the spokesman for the New York Republican.

Mr. Matsuura acknowledged that over the past 20 years, UNESCO the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has been overly political and distant from its mission to provide education and promote human rights. Often the organization became a forum to rally Third World and socialist-bloc nations against Western, industrialized nations.

One such instance that prompted the United States to withdraw from UNESCO in 1984 was the New World Information Order, a program that would allow governments to control news reporting.

Mr. Matsuura said all that has changed, describing the new UNESCO as a "champion of the freedom of press."

He singled out education as the reason why the United States must rejoin the agency. He said UNESCO is committed to basic-education programs a commitment shared by the Bush administration.

Mr. Matsuura also said that UNESCO sees education as a "preventative measure" against terrorism and will aid Afghanistan's efforts to build a primary educational system. During its five-year rule in the country, the Islamist Taliban militia barred girls from schools and shut down secular education. U.S. bombing raids after the September 11 terrorist attacks resulted in the ouster of the Taliban.

The House of Representatives last year appropriated $60 million toward the cost of rejoining UNESCO.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, at the time sought to block the appropriation. "The U.S. now gives between $2 [million] and 3 million a year to UNESCO in voluntary contributions to cover projects we believe are worthwhile. If we rejoin, we would be obligated to fund the good and bad projects alike," he said.

While the Senate has yet to debate the proposal, President Bush is expected to make a final decision on the issue soon.

Hillary Wiesner, secretary to Mr. Matsuura, said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice have written to UNESCO indicating that the "decision for the U.S. to return is under active consideration."

Brett D. Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation cautioned against rushing the decision, askingWashington to "sit back and see if [the reforms] are permanent" before rejoining.

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