WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States President Donald Trump said on Friday (Feb 22) he was nominating Mrs Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to Canada, to replace Mrs Nikki Haley as his envoy to the United Nations after a four-month search.
Mrs Craft, a top Republican donor from Kentucky, rose this week as a serious contender for the post based on a recommendation by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Kentuckian.
She will not hold a Cabinet-level position, as Mrs Haley did, a senior White House official said, after Mr Trump decided to downgrade the post. Regardless, she will need to be confirmed by the US Senate.
"Kelly has done an outstanding job representing our nation and I have no doubt that under her leadership, our country will be represented at the highest level," Mr Trump said in a tweet announcing his decision.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Mrs Craft "extremely well-qualified" and an "outstanding advocate for America's national security and economic interests in Canada".
Mrs Craft met with Mr Trump, Mr Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton in the Oval Office on Friday, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.
She was seen as a tough negotiator in a new US trade deal with Canada and Mexico and, as ambassador to Canada, established decent working relationships with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the source said.
If confirmed, she will have the difficult job of defending Mr Trump's "America First" foreign policy and navigating his criticism of the world body while getting global diplomats to back US policies.
French UN ambassador Francois Delattre said he looked forward to working with Mrs Craft if she was confirmed by the Senate.
"I hope that Mrs Craft will continue, like Mrs Nikki Haley, to be a bridge between Washington, DC, and the UN at a time when we more than ever need an America that is engaged with the UN in world affairs and committed to our shared values, beginning with human rights," Mr Delattre said.
Mrs Haley, a rising Republican star who resigned in October and left in late 2018, was seen by her counterparts at the UN as a voice of clarity in a US administration that often gave off mixed signals on foreign policy, diplomats said.
Mrs Craft will face a variety of challenges, including championing US efforts to contain Iran's influence in the Middle East and ensuring the global body maintains tough sanctions on North Korea as Washington tries to negotiate an end to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.
The US has also gone to the UN in recent weeks to seek international recognition of opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president over socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.
Mrs Craft was Mr Trump's second choice for the UN position. He had planned to nominate former State Department spokesman Heather Nauert, but she withdrew her name from consideration last week for family reasons.
A person familiar with the matter told Reuters that Ms Nauert withdrew from consideration because she had a nanny who was in the United States legally, but did not have the proper work visa. Ms Nauert did not comment.
Having been confirmed by the Senate for the Canada post, Mrs Craft should have a smoother confirmation path and less problems with vetting, the source said.
Mr Trump had also considered other candidates, including US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and Republican John James, who lost a bid for a US Senate seat in Michigan last November.
Former senior White House aide Dina Powell was also on Mr Trump's radar, but she was believed to be disinterested in the position after she returned to Goldman Sachs Group a year ago.