UNESCO Gives Saudi King a Medal for Promoting ‘Dialogue and Peace’ (CNS) CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE) By Patrick Goodenough 04/25/12)
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(CNSNews.com) – The head of the United Nations cultural agency has
awarded Saudi King Abdullah a medal “in recognition of his efforts in
enhancing the culture of dialogue and peace.”
U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Director-General Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian diplomat, bestowed the
award during a three-day visit to the kingdom this week, the official
Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
During her visit to Saudi Arabia, Bokova also met with Foreign
Minister Saud Al Faisal, who thanked UNESCO for becoming the first
U.N. agency to admit “Palestine” as a full member.
Also present during the Bokova-Abdullah meeting, SPA said, were
an “elite” group of UNESCO ambassadors, representing “Palestine,”
Zimbabwe, Brazil, Poland, Germany and France.
The medal – “UNESCO’s highest honorary recognition award” – was a
mark of appreciation for Abdullah’s initiatives in holding
international forums and conferences furthering dialogue and peace,
the agency said.
The king last year established a center in Vienna, Austria to promote
interreligious dialogue, opened an interfaith conference in Madrid in
2008, and hosted a “culture of peace” gathering at the U.N. in New
York later that same year.
In 2010, Saudi Arabia donated $5 million to UNESCO to implement a
three-year international program, named for the Saudi king, aimed at
building a “culture of peace and dialogue.”
The rector of the Islamic University in Medina, Mohammed Al-Uqla,
praised UNESCO’s decision to award the medal to one of “the most
influential world personalities.”
Saudi Ambassador to UNESCO Ziad al-Darees called it “international
recognition of the continuous noble efforts he [Abdullah] was
exerting for spreading the spirit of tolerance, co-existence and
dialogue among rival individuals and societies.”
The award was, furthermore, “confirmation of the message of Islam
which always calls for living in peace, dialogue and co-existence
among all people of the world,” he added.
UNESCO´s decision last fall to admit Palestine – made not by UNESCO
officials but by an overwhelmingly majority of member-states in a
vote – triggered a serious financial crisis for the agency, since
U.S. law compelled the Obama administration to withdraw funding.
U.S. taxpayers accounted for 22 percent of UNESCO’s operating budget.
Along with additional voluntary contributions, the agency received a
total of some $80 million a year from the U.S.
The administration complied reluctantly with the defunding
requirement, and is seeking a waiver that would enable it to resume
contributions in the coming months. Bokova traveled to the U.S. late
last year and again in March, seeking support from lawmakers and
others for a restoration of U.S. funding for her agency.
Last week, UNESCO hosted a three-day event at its Paris headquarters
called Saudi Cultural Days, featuring Saudi art, dishes, costumes and
dances. It was opened by Bokova and Saudi Culture and Information
Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja, who used the opportunity to commend
UNESCO “for the courage it has shown by giving membership to
A seminar on cultural dialogue during the event was addressed by a
former Saudi education minister, who discussed how “the West’s
ignorance about Islam had a negative impact on Muslims,” according to
a report in the Saudi newspaper Arab News.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice last month defended the
administration’s desire to restore UNESCO funding, telling lawmakers
the agency was “essentially an anti-extremist organization” involved
in “essential work, from girls’ education to tsunami warning, that
serve U.S. interests.”
“It’s not in our interests for these critical programs to go without
22 percent of U.S. funding,” Rice said.
The Reagan administration withdrew the U.S. from UNESCO in the 1980s,
citing rampant mismanagement and accusing it of pursuing an anti-
Western agenda. The Bush administration reversed the move in 2003,
saying the agency had made important reforms over the previous four
years. (copyright 1998-2012 Cybercast News Service 04/25/12)
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