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UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ President Bush announced Thursday that the United States, after withdrawing 18 years ago, was rejoining the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ``to advance human rights, tolerance, and learning.''

Washington had withdrawn from the Paris-based organization to protest its alleged mismanagement and overly political policies.

``This organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights, tolerance, and learning,'' Bush said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly.

Bush's comments were met with applause.

At a news conference, Fred Eckhard, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, welcomed the United States' return.

``Having a country the size of the United States, with the resources of the United States _ I think that will energize it (the agency) and help it more energetically and effectively address its agenda,'' Eckhard said.

UNESCO was created in 1946 to fight intolerance and racism, but in the mid-1980s it was accused of being corrupt, politicized and mismanaged.

The United States pulled out in 1984 during Ronald Reagan's presidency with former Secretary of State George Shultz charging that UNESCO had strayed from its professed purposes. At the time, the United States provided a quarter of UNESCO's budget. Britain also left in the mid-1980s but returned in 1998.

At that time, former President Clinton said budget constraints prevented the United States from rejoining.

When Koichiro Matsura took over as UNESCO's director-general in the fall of 1999, he promised to refocus on core concerns and implement more practical programs.

A pamphlet published by UNESCO last year said the organization had resolved issues raised by the United States _ supporting press freedom, for example, and ending what American critics said was the politicization of the development agenda.

``UNESCO offers the United States an international forum to strengthen partnerships with its neighbors and improve understanding via dialogue, common projects and exchanges _ in other words 'public diplomacy,''' said the pamphlet.

The U.N. agency said Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Algeria and other states recently asked the organization for help in breaking the association between Islam and terrorism that has developed in the minds of many, and have proposed a ``cultural offensive against terrorism.''

Many Muslim leaders have denounced last Sept. 11's terror attacks, and complained their religion was being unfairly associated with terrorism because the hijackers all were Muslim.