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Nikki Haley Is Leaving The UN: What To Know And What Comes Next

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump caught Washington, and a good portion of the U.S. political world, off guard when he made the unexpected announcement that Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, was leaving her post.

A former governor of South Carolina, Haley held a prominent position in Trump’s cabinet and was widely seen as a solid diplomat who put to rest doubts about her lack of foreign affairs credentials.

Her diplomatic work, at least publicly, brought Trump’s punchy, confrontational approach to foreign policy into the meetings of the Security Council.

Her comments on October 9, made in the Oval Office as Trump announced her planned departure, also echoed that brash approach.

“Look at what has happened in two years with the United States on foreign policy. Now, the United States is respected,” she said. “Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do. They know that if we say we're going to do something, we follow it through. And the president proved that.”

She outlasted Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who, unlike Haley, generated friction with Trump: on substance, on style, on mannerisms, and other matters.

Here are several things to know about Trump's first ambassador to the world body.

Sharp-Elbowed Diplomacy?

In one of her first statements upon taking up the job two years ago, Haley was decidedly undiplomatic.

"For those that don't have our back, we're taking names. We will make points to respond to that accordingly," she said.

That was a clear indication of the approach she sought at the UN, and she followed through, at least publicly. In Security Council meetings and elsewhere, she routinely called out Iran and Syria and engaged in rhetorical jousting with other members.

Haley and U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on October 9
Haley and U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on October 9

In fact, she also called out the Security Council itself, accusing the body of “obsessing over Israel.”

"Truth be told, the Security Council often makes the Middle East more complicated than it actually is. It obsesses over Israel. And it refuses to acknowledge one of the chief sources of conflict and killing in the Middle East – that is, Iran and its partner militia, Lebanese Hizballah,” she said in August 2017.

In May, when clashes along Israel’s border with Gaza resulted in more than 60 Palestinians being killed, Haley walked out of an emergency Security Council meeting when the Palestinian UN envoy began giving his speech.

As one of the top foreign policy officials in the U.S. administration, she also was at the forefront of the effort to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That move, which was hailed by Israel but derided by many U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe, was cited by Haley in her remarks alongside Trump on October 9.

Haley also led the White House charge against the UN Human Rights Council, which Republicans, and some Democrats, have criticized for giving seats to countries with horrible human rights records: Venezuela, China, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, among others.

“For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers,” she said in June in announcing the United States' withdrawal from it.

Other achievements she has claimed credit for include cutting the UN budget by $1.3 billion; imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan; passing three sets of sanctions on North Korea; and highlighting what she said was Iran’s continuing efforts to destabilize the Middle East: “Bringing attention to the world that every country needs to understand you can't overlook all of the bad things they're doing; you have to see them for the threat that they are.”

Same Page, Different Page

Trump’s decision to tap Haley for the UN post raised eyebrows not just because of her relative lack of foreign policy experience.

Haley was a critic of Trump during the 2016 election campaign, and she supported one of Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination -- moves that have typically been immediate disqualifiers for Trump, who sees such behavior as signs of disloyalty.

Though her work at the UN largely reflected Trump policy, she eked out some distance from the White House. On Russia, for example, she has been an outspoken critic, putting her at odds with Trump, who has regularly called for a more conciliatory approach toward Moscow.

Haley and Russia's UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya before a UN Security Council meeting on Syria in April
Haley and Russia's UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya before a UN Security Council meeting on Syria in April

In May, she called Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula "a textbook example of the direct violation of the sovereignty of one member state by another member state."

In September, after Britain publicly accused Russian intelligence officers of carrying out the nerve-agent poisoning of an ex-Russian double agent in England, Haley ripped into Moscow.

Also last month, she publicly accused Russia of cheating on UN sanctions imposed on North Korea: “Its violations are not one-offs. They are systematic. The United States has evidence of consistent and wide-ranging Russian violations.”

The perception that she wasn’t entirely on the same page as Trump’s White House came into sharpest focus in April, when she appeared to preempt a White House announcement about imposing new sanctions on Russian companies working with Syria.

After one White House official, Larry Kudlow, told reporters that there might have been "some momentary confusion," Haley pointedly responded: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

Haley has also diverged from Trump on domestic affairs, as well, most notably after Trump blamed “both sides” for the violence that erupted at a demonstration of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.

Days after Trump’s comments drew pointed criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike, Haley said publicly that she “had a personal conversation with the president about Charlottesville, and I will leave it at that” – remarks that most interpreted as her criticizing the president.

And in an op-ed article published in The Washington Post, she put a marker down on her willingness to challenge Trump.

“I don’t agree with the president on everything,” she wrote.

Who’s Next?

Haley said she will remain in her post until the end of 2018. The timing of the announcement prompted quick speculation that she was planning to challenge Trump for the presidency in 2020.

However, she put that to rest quickly, saying explicitly that she wasn’t going to run and that she planned to support Trump.

That gave way to more immediate speculation about whom Trump would tap to replace her.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

In her Oval Office remarks, Haley gave fulsome praise to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who has been a White House envoy on Israel and Middle East policies, including the move of the U.S. Embassy.

That led to some open discussion about whether one of them could end up with the UN portfolio. Ethics experts, however, point out that would be problematic due to nepotism issues.

Other names that have floated include Heather Nauert, who, before becoming spokeswoman for the State Department, was a correspondent for ABC News and a host on Fox News.

Dina Powell, a former deputy national security adviser earlier in Trump’s administration, has also been mentioned in U.S. media reports as a possible successor, as has Richard Grenell, currently the U.S. ambassador to Germany and formerly a spokesman for John Bolton when he served as UN ambassador in the early 2000s.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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