“First Lady Jill Biden is in France and spoke Tuesday at a UNESCO event to celebrate the U.S. rejoining the global body after more than four years of absence.
The U.S. officially left the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in December 2018 due to the Trump administration’s concerns about its perceived anti-Israel stance and the need for “fundamental reform.” Before that, the U.S. stopped funding UNESCO when the organization granted Palestine membership in 2011.
But the senior Biden administration official said last week that being away from UNESCO was “hurting our interests,” and that the organization has made “much-needed reforms.” The U.S. decided to rejoin the organization in June and was welcomed back soon after.
The first lady spoke at a flag-raising event Tuesday to mark the U.S. return. Her trip is part of the Biden administration’s efforts to reengage with multilateral organizations that former President Donald Trump left.
“Some of the biggest challenges of our time cannot be solved in isolation,” the first lady said in her speech. “Of course, we need to take care of our own citizens, but we’re also a part of the global community. When we take our seat in that coalition, we can fight for our values, like democracy and equality and human rights.”
In 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. was rejoining the United Nations Human Rights Council, a move that became official at the beginning of a three-year term starting in January 2022.”
“The U.S. left the council in 2018 under the Trump administration, with the then-U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, accusing it of “chronic bias against Israel.”
Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement on climate change, which the Trump administration said it would withdraw from in 2017. The U.S. officially left the deal just one day after the 2020 election.
“As President Biden has often said, the United States is stronger, safer, and more prosperous when we engage with the rest of the world and when we seek cooperation, collaboration, and partnership,” Blinken said in a press release in June. “By rejoining UNESCO, the United States would reinforce that message and restore our leadership in a vital international space.”
Senior administration officials described the first lady’s trip as a milestone in restoring U.S. leadership on the global stage.
“We also recognize that when we don’t participate in these organizations, other countries will take our place,” a senior administration official said.
“If we aren’t in the room, we can’t push back,” the official added. “And if we don’t show up, we can’t fight for the American people and defend our allies abroad from unfair attacks.”
During the trip, she will also visit Mont-Saint-Michel — a UNESCO world heritage site — as well as the Brittany American cemetery in Normandy to honor American service members who died during World War II. She will also meet with France’s first lady, Brigitte Macron, on Tuesday.
A senior administration official listed U.S. priorities in UNESCO, including investments in Holocaust education, the preservation of cultural heritage in Ukraine, journalists’ safety, and STEM education for women and girls in Africa.”