Donald Trump's UN pick echoes his criticism, breaks from him on Russia

At her Senate confirmation hearing, Nikki Haley, Donald Trump's pick for UN ambassador says she will take an 'outsider's look' at the world body if confirmed.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley testifies during her confirmation hearing for US Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) before the Senate Foreign Relations committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Jan 18, 2017.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley testifies during her confirmation hearing for US Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) before the Senate Foreign Relations committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Jan 18, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Donald Trump's pick for UN ambassador echoed his condemnation of the world body and pledged to push for reforms at her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday (Jan 18), but broke from the president-elect on some foreign policy issues, including Russia.

Nikki Haley, a rising star in the Republican Party, faced tough questioning from 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, including a Security Council resolution last month demanding an end to settlement building that the United States declined to veto.

Trump took to Twitter recently to criticise the 193-member world body as "just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!" He warned that "things will be different" after he takes office, without offering details.

Haley told the hearing that Washington should always back Israel. "If we always stand with them, more countries will want to be our allies," she said.

Promising to work with Congress to push for reforms at the world body, Haley said: "The American people see the UN's mistreatment of Israel, its failure to prevent the North Korean nuclear threat, its waste and corruption, and they are fed up."

But she praised some UN work, including food programmes, efforts to alleviate Aids, weapons monitoring and some peacekeeping missions, a departure from Trump's criticisms of the international organisation.

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 its 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.

She promised to bring a message to Russia's UN ambassador that the United States will not accept its attempts to interfere in the 2016 US election, in which Trump won the White House.

STANDING UP TO TRUMP?

Some of Trump's other national security nominees, including former Exxon Mobil Chairman Rex Tillerson, his choice for secretary of state, and his Pentagon nominee, retired Marine General James Mattis, have also veered from Trump's positions during their hearings.

Haley said she expected that Trump's Cabinet would discuss such issues with him, to influence his decisions.

A number of senators, including some Republicans, have said they hope some of Trump's appointees will rein in his more controversial positions on Russia and other issues.

"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 after meeting with Haley on Tuesday.

Haley acknowledged her lack of diplomatic experience but said her role 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, warned against calls to cut funding of the United Nations since the Israel vote.

"We will need a strong, principled voice at the United Nations who is committed to reforming and strengthening it, not irreparably damaging it," Cardin said.

The United States provides 22 per cent of the UN budget.

The committee's chairman, Republican Senator Bob Corker, criticised what he saw as UN failures to effectively handle a wide range of matters, including the crisis in Syria and the influence of a rising Russia and China.

"Being UN ambassador is really causing something that is dysfunctional to function," Corker said.

Both 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 grounds of the state capitol after a white supremacist killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston.

There have been few serious doubts raised about Haley's selection. She already has fans at UN 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.