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Mrs. Bush Promotes US as It Rejoins UNESCO in Paris

Date: 01-Oct-03
Country: FRANCE
Author: Randall Mikkelsen

The United States withdrew from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan, citing bad management and anti-Western bias.

President Bush announced plans to rejoin the body last year as he tried to win U.N. backing for the U.S.-led war on Iraq, which he ultimately failed to do.

"As of October 1, the United States government will once again be a full, active and enthusiastic participant in UNESCO's important mission to promote peace and freedom," Mrs. Bush said in a speech to UNESCO's biannual general conference.

"UNESCO, an institution born of a yearning for peace that survived years of war, can now help achieve peace by spreading the values that will help defeat terror and lead to a safer and better world," she said.

With the Eiffel Tower looming in the background, the first lady watched on as two guards raised the U.S. flag to fly with those of the other 189 member states in the courtyard.

Raising a potentially contentious issue, she said the United States would work on research to "foster scientific and sensible environmental policy."

Washington has been widely criticized for pulling out of the U.N. Kyoto Protocol on cutting greenhouse gases, an issue being discussed at an international conference under way in Moscow, which Mrs. Bush visits yesterday.

DIPLOMATIC TOUR

The first lady's visit to the U.N. body is part of a five-day trip to Europe aimed at smoothing international relations at a time when her husband is once again asking the United Nations for support on Iraq.

This time Washington is appealing for foreign troops and money to help control and rebuild the war-torn country.

"This is a good day for UNESCO," the organization's Director General Koichiro Matsuura said. "A new nation is joining forces with us, bringing with it vast intellectual and cultural resources, along with partnership and good will."

The U.S. return is also expected to boost the agency's two-year budget to $610 million from $544 million.

The United States officially rejoins UNESCO on Wednesday, when it presents membership documents to the British government, a U.S. official said.

Mrs. Bush met with French President Jacques Chirac ahead of her UNESCO speech. The French president, unpopular in the United States for his opposition to the Iraq war, kissed the first lady's hand as she arrived at Elysee Palace on a courtesy call.

"President Chirac made a point of being gracious...of being friendly. And one could say charming as well," a White House official traveling with Mrs. Bush said after the meeting.

The first lady's visit comes after Chirac kept up his criticism of the U.S. Iraq policy in a speech to the United Nations in New York last week. The two leaders failed to bridge differences in a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. session.

In an interview with reporters last week, Mrs. Bush said she hoped her visit to France and meeting with Chirac would send a message of friendship despite U.S.-French tensions over Iraq.

"It's important for Americans and for the French to be friends with each other," she said.

"Certainly we've had disagreements over that long history 'and I hope we're just coming out of one."

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