Trump's picks signal more US policy changes

Montana lawmaker Ryan Zinke helped introduce a Bill expanding tax credits for coal-burning power plants.
Montana lawmaker Ryan Zinke helped introduce a Bill expanding tax credits for coal-burning power plants.

He chooses hardliner for envoy to Israel and climate change sceptic for Interior Secretary

WASHINGTON • United States President-elect Donald Trump has signalled that more changes in American policies are in the offing with two new nominations.

He named Montana lawmaker and former Navy Seal Ryan Zinke, who questions whether humans are largely the cause of climate change, to be his Secretary of the Interior.

He also named a bankruptcy lawyer aligned with the Israeli far right, Mr David Friedman, as his nominee for ambassador to Israel, elevating a campaign adviser who has questioned the need for a two-state solution and has likened left-leaning Jews in America to the Jews who aided the Nazis in the Holocaust.

The only major departments Mr Trump has yet to assign are the departments of agriculture and veterans affairs.

INTERIOR SECRETARY

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr Zinke will head an agency that employs more than 70,000 people across the country and oversees more than 20 per cent of federal land, including national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.

As a one-term US congressman, Mr Zinke took several stances favouring coal, which is high in carbon emissions when burned. Coal output suffered during the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama as the development of competing fuels such as natural gas and solar and wind power soared.

Mr Zinke, 55, pushed to end a moratorium on federal coal leases on public lands by 2019, saying it had resulted in closed mines and job cuts.

He also helped introduce a Bill expanding tax credits for coal-burning power plants that bury carbon dioxide emissions underground to fight climate change, a measure supported by coal interests and some moderate environmental groups.

Mr Trump's potential Cabinet is filling with nominees from top fossil fuel-producing states. He tapped Oklahoma Attorney-General Scott Pruitt, an ardent opponent of Mr Obama's measures to curb climate change, to run the Environmental Protection Agency and Mr Rick Perry, a climate sceptic and former governor of Texas, to head the Department of Energy.

ENVOY TO ISRAEL

Mr Friedman, picked to be US ambassador to Israel, said he looked forward to taking up his post in Jerusalem, implying a move from Tel Aviv that would mark a break in longstanding US foreign policy and anger the Muslim world. While campaigning for the presidency, Mr Trump pledged to switch the embassy from Tel Aviv, where it has been located for 68 years, to Jerusalem, all but enshrining the city as Israel's capital regardless of international objections.

The US and other powers do not regard Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Other nations' embassies are located in Tel Aviv - and do not recognise Israel's annexation of Arab East Jerusalem following its capture in the 1967 Middle East war.

One of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is resolving the rival demands for Jerusalem's future.

Palestinians regard the ancient city - which contains sites sacred to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths - as the future capital of a separate state.

Mr Friedman, who specialises in litigation and bankruptcy law, was asked by Israeli left-leaning newspaper Haaretz in June about whether Mr Trump would support the creation of an independent Palestinian state - a bedrock of US foreign policy which supports a two-state solution. "The answer is - not without the approval of the Israelis,"said Mr Friedman.

He is also considered far-right on issues including settlement building and has advocated for the annexation of the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.

Mr Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to Republican and Democratic administrations, said Mr Friedman's nomination "was designed to send a signal that there will be a significant break in tone, style and perhaps substance from the Obama administration" in the US handling of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2016, with the headline 'Trump's picks signal more US policy changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe