Trump names Kelly Craft to succeed Nikki Haley as US ambassador to the UN

Trump names Kelly Craft to succeed Nikki Haley as US ambassador to the UN

Current envoy to Canada will have to contend with pressing issues from Afghanistan to Venezuela; her predecessor, beloved by Israel, set to address AIPAC conference next month

US Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft stands during her swearing in ceremony on the White House grounds, September 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
US Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft stands during her swearing in ceremony on the White House grounds, September 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump announced Friday that he has selected Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to Canada, as his nominee to serve as the next US ambassador to the United Nations.

Trump said in a pair of tweets that Craft “has done an outstanding job representing our Nation” and he has “no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level.”

Two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters had told The Associated Press that Trump had been advised that Craft’s confirmation would be the smoothest of the three candidates he had been considering to fill the job last held by Nikki Haley.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had backed Craft for the post, and she also has the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, they said. Trump’s first pick to replace Haley, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew over the weekend.

Craft, a Kentucky native, was a member of the US delegation to the UN General Assembly under President George W. Bush’s administration. She is also friends with McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and thanked Chao for her “longtime friendship and support” at her swearing-in as ambassador.

As US ambassador to Canada, she played a role in facilitating the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump had also considered US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former US Senate candidate John James of Michigan for the post.

Nauert’s withdrawal from consideration came amid a push within the administration to fill the position, given a pressing array of foreign policy concerns in which the UN, particularly the UN Security Council, is likely to play a significant role. From Afghanistan to Venezuela, the administration has pressing concerns that involve the world body, and officials said there had been impatience with the delays on Nauert’s formal nomination.

Trump said December 7 that he would pick the former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman for the UN job, but her nomination was never formalized. Notwithstanding other concerns that may have arisen during her confirmation, Nauert’s nomination had languished in part due to the 35-day government shutdown that began December 22 and interrupted key parts of the vetting process. Nauert cited family considerations in withdrawing from the post.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

With Nauert out of the running, officials said Pompeo had been keen on Craft to fill the position. Although Pompeo would like to see the job filled, the vacancy has created an opportunity for him and others to take on a more active role in UN diplomacy. On Thursday, for example, Pompeo was in New York to meet with UN chief Antonio Guterres.

Trump has demoted the UN position to sub-cabinet rank, in a move backed by both Bolton and Pompeo, according to three other officials. Grenell had suggested he wasn’t interested in a non-cabinet role. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal personnel deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Haley had been a member of the cabinet and had clashed repeatedly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others during the administration’s first 14 months. Bolton was not a cabinet member when he served as UN ambassador in President George W. Bush’s administration, and neither he nor Pompeo is eager to see a potential challenge to their foreign policy leadership in White House situation room meetings, according to the officials.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks at a UN Security Council Meeting on the Middle East on November 19, 2018. (UN/Rick Bajornas)

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Craft was appointed ambassador to Canada because of her financial contributions to the Trump campaign, but said that’s not unusual as past ambassadors have also contributed to presidents who have appointed them.

“I think Ottawa has regarded Craft as a light weight, partly because of her background and partly because the sense is that Trump, unlike his predecessors, doesn’t listen to his ambassadors or care what they think,” Wiseman said.

Craft is married to billionaire coal-mining executive Joe Craft, and they are major Republican donors.

Craft has been ambassador during a low point in relations. Last year Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.

In Haley’s footsteps

Haley announced her surprise resignation on October, and said serving as ambassador to the UN had “been an honor of a lifetime.”

She cited pushing back against the anti-Israel bias at the UN as one of the key accomplishments of her tenure. She also praised Trump for moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“They get it when the president says he means business,” she said in remarks alongside Trump at the White House. “If you look at the anti-Israel bias and the strength and courage the president showed in moving the embassy.”

Haley also pointed to her work with Jared Kushner, Trump’s special adviser and son-in-law, on the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

“Looking at what we’ve done on the Middle East peace plan. It is so unbelievably well done,” she said. “Jared is such a hidden genius that no one understands.”

She insisted that she was going out on a high and would remain loyal to Trump.

“Countries may not like what we do but they respect what we do,” she said, echoing the president’s often-stated aim to make the US a more muscular presence on the international stage.

She listed hawkish policies to pressure Iran and the Palestinians, and the groundbreaking diplomatic outreach to North Korea.

“All of those things have made a huge difference in the US standing, but I can tell you that the US is strong again. The US is strong in a way it should make all Americans proud,” Haley said.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

Haley said she had no plans to run for the White House in 2020.

The move apparently came as a shock to Congressional and Trump administration officials, with Haley keeping her plans to a small circle until Tuesday morning.

In her resignation letter, she said she wanted to return to the private sector.

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, thanked Haley for her support of Israel, which he said helped change the Jewish state’s status at the world body. “Thank you for standing with the truth without fear. Thank you for representing the values common to Israel and the United States,” he said in a statement.

“Wherever you are, you will continue to be a true friend of the State of Israel,” Danon added.

Haley was a star in the center-right pro-Israel community, consistently earning the loudest plaudits at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. She is to address the 2019 AIPAC conference next month, the pro-Israel lobby announced on Friday.

ToI staff contributed to this report.

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