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Should the United States rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which it left five years ago for being bloated, wasteful, and anti-American?

As UNESCO prepares to open its General Conference on Oct. 17, just such an about-face is being urged by some impressive organizations, including the American Library Association and a committee of the American Bar Association.But their arguments represent the triumph of hope over experience.

One of those arguments is that in Federico Mayor Zaragoza of Spain, UNESCO has a dynamic new leader who is trying to steer the organization away from political divisiveness and toward practical programs enjoying wide support.

Though Zaragoza has indeed drafted a plan charting a new course for UNESCO from 1990 to 1995, the United States should base its decision about rejoining UNESCO on performance, not promises. Indeed, Washington should wait to see what happens to Zaragoza himself. His new plan is said to have aroused so much opposition within UNESCO that he could face an attempt to oust him at the General Conference.

Another argument for rejoining is that membership would enable the United States to resist Soviet efforts to dominate UNESCO. But even when the United States belonged to UNESCO, funds were regularly diverted from the cultural and educational programs for which UNESCO was created and into Soviet-inspired programs that fit into Moscow's propaganda line.

Moreover, UNESCO's executive board recently voted unanimously to renew a campaign that helped prompt the United States to leave the organization in 1984. We're referring to the campaign to turn news reports on Third World countries into pro-government propaganda by licensing journalists.

Before the United States left, American taxpayers were footing the bill for up to a third of UNESCO's $350 million budget. From all appearances, the organization still hasn't changed enough to warrant America's return.