Washington — The Reagan administration has notified UNESCO of its intention to withdraw from that United Nations organization. The move is likely to trigger new debate over the value of US involvement in the UN as a whole.
Withdrawal from UNESCO would not go into effect for another year. At the end of the one-year period, the administration still has the option of staying in UNESCO should the organization alter its behavior to the satisfaction of the United States, which is one of UNESCO's leading financial donors.
Meanwhile, debate here over the controversial United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization is far from over. Even within the administration, some debate continues over how to deal with UNESCO.
The voice of Congress has yet to be heard in any organized way. Congressional hearings are likely to be held early next year at which dozens of nongovernmental organizations working with UNESCO - and favoring continued participation - will have their say.
The administration has, however, already gained wary support from one key Democratic congressman, Rep. Dante B. Fascell of Florida. In a telephone interview from Miami, Mr. Fascell said, ''I support the action. I think we have to serve notice on UNESCO in order to keep our options open.''
Representative Fascell, who is acting chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of the international operations subcommittee, says UNESCO has become ''highly politicized.'' He questions UNESCO's sizable budget increases, its attacks on press freedom, and attempts by its members to oust Israel.
Fascell says he is not advocating that a withdrawal from UNESCO be used as a ''test case'' for withdrawing from the United Nations. Some conservatives favor withdrawing from the UN altogether. The congressman says the majority reaction in Congress will probably be to support ''very warily and very gingerly'' the US decision to serve notice on UNESCO.
''If this is an effort to destroy the UN, then there is going to be some reaction against that,'' Fascell said.
The US contributes one-quarter of UNESCO's two-year budget, which is $374 million for 1984-85. A formal announcement of the US intention to withdraw from the organization is expected today. The administration is apparently considering the formation of a new oversight commission to monitor possible reforms by UNESCO.
The Reagan administration has criticized the organization for a broad range of failings. Debate within the administration now seems to center on whether or not the organization can be reformed. Assistant Secretary of State Gregory J. Newell leans toward the view that the organization is beyond reform. Others, such as Undersecretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, are said to be open to the view that substantial reforms are still within the realm of possibility.
A majority of the 100-member US National Commission for UNESCO, an advisory board that includes representatives from 60 nongovernmental groups, says UNESCO can still be reformed. The group voted Dec. 16 in favor of continued UNESCO membership.
James B. Holderman, president of the University of South Carolina and administration-appointed chairman of the national commission, said yesterday, ''We believe UNESCO can be worked with from within, as was evident from the recent relatively successful experience we've had at the general conference (of UNESCO), where strong American leadership was exerted.
''We believe that within this year substantial progress toward reform can be made,'' Mr. Holderman said in a telephone interview from Orlando, Fla.
Holderman said there is great concern among nongovernmental organizations over the impact of a US withdrawal from UNESCO on educational, cultural, and scientific exchanges.