US First Lady Jill Biden and Unesco Director General Audrey Azoulay poses in front of flags during a flag raising ceremony for the return of the United States to Unesco after an over half decade absence at the headquarters in Paris, on July 25, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

PARIS: US first lady Jill Biden attended a flag-raising ceremony at Unesco in Paris on Tuesday, marking Washington’s official reentry into the UN agency after a controversial five-year hiatus.

The Stars and Stripes was hoisted up outside Unesco’s headquarters with the Eiffel Tower on the skyline to rousing applause and a rendition of the national anthem. Before the flag-raising, Biden made remarks about the importance of American leadership in preserving cultural heritage and empowering education and science across the globe.

“I was honoured to join you today as we raise the flag of the Unites States, the symbol of our commitment to global collaboration and peace,” Biden said.

She said that this move was an example of President Joe Biden’s pledge about “restoring our leadership on the world stage.”

“We are so proud to rejoin Unesco,” she proclaimed, acknowledging that “as a teacher I’m a little biased.”

The United States had announced its intention to rejoin Unesco in June, and the organisation’s 193 member states earlier this month voted to approve the US reentry. Tuesday’s ceremony, which also featured a speech by Unesco Director-General Audrey Azoulay, formally signified the US becoming the 194th member — and flag proprietor — at the agency.

We are putting “the Star Spangled banner back where it belongs,” Azoulay said.

“In the time of divisions, rifts and and existential threats, we reaffirm our union here today,” Azoulay also said, referring to current global political instabilities. “Together we will be stronger.”

“The return of the United States has a meaning that is bigger than Unesco,” she added.

Azoulay emphasised the significance of the move for multilateralism and “universality” as a whole — in a speech that name checked the war in Ukraine. She said the momentum of Unesco will grow with the reintegration of the US, thereby strengthening the organization’s initiatives throughout the world.