UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) — Washington’s new ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, vowed Friday to show US strength in global affairs and delivered a blunt warning to opponents of President Donald Trump’s policies.
“For those who don’t have our backs, we’re taking names,” Haley told reporters at she arrived at UN headquarters for her first meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“We will make points to respond to that accordingly.”
“Our goal with the administration is to show value at the UN, and the way that we will show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure that our allies have our back as well,” she said.
The comments also implied criticism of the previous Obama administration, which abstained last month on a resolution that branded Israel’s settlements illegal and Jerusalem’s Old City occupied Palestinian territory. By choosing not to use its veto, the administration enabled the motion to pass, drawing an accusation from a furious Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US had “ambushed” Israel “shamefully.”
The former South Carolina governor made her first remarks at UN headquarters before presenting her diplomatic credentials to Guterres.
Their first meeting was expected to be clouded by reports of a draft executive order being prepared at the White House that could deprive the United Nations of billions of dollars in US financial support.
The United States is by far the UN’s biggest financial contributor, providing 22 percent of its operating budget and funding 28% of peacekeeping missions, which currently cost $7.8 billion annually.
The 45-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants said she was ready to push for an overhaul of the United Nations and made clear there would be cuts.
“This is a time of strength. This is a time of action. This is a time of getting things done,” Haley said.
“Everything that is working, we are going to make it better. Everything that is not working we are going to try and fix. Everything that seems to be obsolete and not necessary, we’re going to do away with,” she said.
A change at the UN
In his pledge to pursue an “America First” foreign policy, Trump has dismissed the United Nations as “just a club for people to get together and have a good time.”
Relations with Trump became tense after the Security Council adopted a resolution demanding Israel end settlement construction.
The former US administration declined to use its veto to block the measure, prompting Trump to promise that “things will be different” at the United Nations under his administration.
Tough-talking Haley echoed that stance.
“You are going to see a change in the way we do business. It’s no longer about working harder but working smarter,” she said.
The ambassador then held a brief 20-minute meeting with Guterres who was “delighted to meet her,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
“It was an introductory meeting and the start of engagement with the new US administration,” he said.
Guterres, who took over from Ban Ki-moon on January 1, is also pushing for changes at the United Nations to improve its ability to respond to crises.
UN officials are eager to engage with the new US envoy on the way forward on a range of issues from key appointments to top UN posts to faltering peace efforts in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan.
Haley’s appointment was welcomed by many diplomats who notably praised her for her strong stance against racism as South Carolina governor, when she ordered that the Confederate flag be pulled down from the state capitol.
Her lack of diplomatic experience however is expected to be a challenge as she confronts a string of complex issues on the agenda of the Security Council, where the United States is one of the five veto-wielding powers.
After Resolution 2334
At her confirmation hearing last week, Haley blasted the Obama administration for not blocking UN Security Council Resolution 2334, the December 23, 2016 motion that condemned Israeli settlements as illegal. She also backed moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, while explicitly stating she supported a two-state solution and recognizing settlements “can hinder peace.”
At the January 18 hearing, Haley told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee she would work to reassert the message in the international body that the United States stands by Israel as an ally, a rebuke to the handling of outgoing President Barack Obama’s team.
“I will not go to New York and abstain when the UN seeks to create an international environment that encourages boycotts of Israel,” she said, referring to a provision of UNSC Resolution 2334 that calls for states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”
While she spent a great portion of her time condemning the United Nations for what she described as its unfair and biased treatment of the Jewish state — an “ultimate low,” she described – she stated she would continue to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When asked if she viewed the settlement enterprise in the context that bipartisan consensus on Washington has long held — that it is an obstacle to reaching a two-state deal — she answered in the warily affirmative.
“I do understand how they think that can hinder peace,” she said.
But Haley also voiced support for moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a shift firmly endorsed by Trump but one that many fear could trigger more violence in the Middle East.
Haley said she “absolutely” backed the embassy move because that’s what the Israeli government and congressional Republicans advocate. “Not only is that what Israel wants,” she said, but also “this Congress has said that is what they support.”
She was unequivocal in her disapproval of how the UN has used its leverage as a world body to influence the way Israelis and Palestinians can resolve their decades-long dispute.
“It is an obsession that they have with Israel where they don’t have with North Korea, where they don’t have with Syria,” she said of the Security Council. “We have to look at the fact and call out the fact.”
“I would never have abstained,” Haley later added on UNSC Resolution 2334. “I think that that was the moment where we should’ve told the world how we stand with Israel.”
Also asked to weigh in on Republican calls to defund the United Nations in light of its passing the recent resolution, Haley expressed her disagreement with such a tactic. “I do not believe we need to pull money from the UN. I do not believe in slash and burn,” she said.
But she also said that “any honest assessment also finds an institution that is often at odds with American national interests and American taxpayers.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon welcomed Haley’s testimony.
“We thank Ambassador-designate Haley, a true friend of Israel, for her unequivocal support and her clear statement regarding the UN’s discrimination against Israel,” he said.
“We look forward to working together with her to undo the damage done by the shameful Security Council resolution, and to lead towards a new era at the UN which includes real reforms that will put an end to the biased obsession with Israel.”
Eric Cortellessa and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.