Nikki Haley echoes Trumps criticism of the U.N. but breaks from him on Russia

Carlos Barria—Reuters
Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at Capitol Hill in Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Donald Trump’s pick for U.N. ambassador echoed his condemnation of the world body and pledged to push for reforms at her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, but broke from the president-elect on some foreign policy issues, including Russia. Nikki Haley, a rising star in the Republican Party, was questioned by some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about her lack of diplomatic experience. Haley, who turns 45 on Friday when Trump takes office, has been governor of South Carolina since 2011. Haley seconded criticism of the United Nations by Trump and many of their fellow Republicans, especially for what she termed its “bias” against Israel. Some Republican lawmakers want to stop U.S. funding for the United Nations over a Security Council resolution last month demanding an end to settlement building that the United States declined to veto, instead of abstaining. Haley said she did not like abstentions and would not abstain on U.N. votes. Trump took to Twitter in the wake of the Israel vote to criticize the 193-member world body as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” He warned “things will be different” after he takes office, without offering details. Haley said Washington should always back Israel. “If we always stand with them, more countries will want to be our allies,” she said. She is expected to be approved by the U.S. Senate. At the end of the hearing, Senator Bob Corker, the committee’s Republican chairman, said he expected she would be approved “overwhelmingly.” Haley repeatedly questioned the amount Washington contributes to the world body and demanded reforms, but said she did not back “slashing and cutting.” The United States provides 22 percent of the U.N. budget. “The American people see the U.N.’s mistreatment of Israel, its failure to prevent the North Korean nuclear threat, its waste and corruption, and they are fed up,” Haley said. But she praised U.N. food programs, efforts to alleviate AIDS, its weapons monitoring and some peacekeeping missions, a departure from Trump’s criticisms. Haley also broke from Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin. She said she considered Russian actions in Syria such as bombing hospitals “war crimes,” condemned Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and said she would oppose easing sanctions until Moscow changes. “I think that Russia has to have positive actions before we lift any sanctions on Russia,” she said. Haley did not advocate backing out of the international nuclear agreement with Iran, which is supported by the United Nations, although she said it should be closely reviewed. STANDING UP TO TRUMP? Some other Trump nominees, including his choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and his Pentagon nominee, retired Marine General James Mattis, have also veered from Trump’s national security positions during their hearings. Several senators, including Republicans, have said they hope some Trump appointees will rein in his more controversial positions. “I would far rather have a strong-willed, capable, elected leader with experience at the state level who says those things than someone who has been a diplomat for 30 years and says: ‘Oh, I’ll do whatever Donald Trump says’,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons told reporters. Some questioned where the president-elect will stand. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said the Tillerson and Haley hearings were in “an alternate universe,” given Trump statements like backing torture or suggesting NATO is obsolete. “That’s all going to change after Friday?” Murphy asked. Haley said she expected Trump’s Cabinet would discuss such issues with him, to change his opinions. Haley did not endorse Trump during last year’s primaries. She initially backed the presidential bid by Senator Marco Rubio and later Senator Ted Cruz. She acknowledged her lack of diplomatic experience but said her time as governor would stand her in good stead. “I would suggest there is nothing more important to a governor’s success than her ability to unite those with different backgrounds, viewpoints and objectives behind a common purpose,” she said. Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, praised Haley after the hearing for being willing to disagree with Trump. Democrats and Republicans praised Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, after she led a push last year to remove a Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds after a white supremacist killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston. Haley already has fans at U.N. headquarters. “She’s a very respected politician and a highly regarded and results-driven professional,” France’s ambassador, Francois Delattre, told reporters on Tuesday. Delattre met Haley in his previous role as French ambassador to the United States.