US UNESCO freeze bad for Mid East peace: Arab League chief

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CAIRO: Arab League chief Nabil Al-Arabi said a US decision to cut UNESCO funding after it approved Palestinian membership boded ill for reviving Middle East peace talks, according to statement on Tuesday.

Al-Arabi, who heads the 22-member league, which supports a Palestinian bid for UN membership, expressed his "extreme astonishment" at the decision by Washington, the main broker in stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

"Such an American step gives a negative indication of the possibility of success in the efforts to revive stalled peace talks," the statement quoted him as saying.

The United States cut its funding to the UN’s cultural arm on Monday after a majority of member states defied American and Israeli warnings and voted to allow jubilant Palestinians full membership in the organization.

Washington, whose funding amounts to almost a quarter of the cultural body’s overall budget, warned of a "cascade" effect should other UN bodies follow suit.

Earlier, at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, the resolution approving Palestinian membership was adopted to loud applause by 107-14, with 52 abstaining.

The Palestinians could now seek full membership of other UN organizations like the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Such moves would place the United States in an increasing diplomatic bind as in the 1990s it banned the financing of any UN organization that accepts Palestine as a full member.

Washington, the main broker in negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, has failed to revive negotiations that stalled over the Palestinians insistence that Israel freeze settlement construction in occupied lands.

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