The United States has rejoined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), nearly two decades after pulling out to protest alleged mismanagement.

President Bush told the U.N. General Assembly Thursday that Washington's decision is a symbol of U.S. commitment to human dignity.

Mr. Bush said the United States believes UNESCO has been reformed and will now participate fully in the international organization's mission to advance human rights, tolerance and learning.

His comments were met with applause in the assembly hall.

UNESCO was created in 1945 to fight intolerance and racism. But in the mid-1980s, critics accused it of being corrupt, politicized and mismanaged. Western media also saw a controversial UNESCO proposal for a "new world information order" as a bid to restrict press freedom.

The United States pulled out of UNESCO in 1984, during the Reagan administration. Britain also pulled out in the mid-1980s, but has since returned.

From Paris, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura issued a statement welcoming the U.S. decision, saying it marks "renewal within the multilateral system."