WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said he’ll nominate State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to be his next United Nations ambassador, replacing Nikki Haley after she resigns at the end of this year.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, Trump said Nauert is “very talented, very smart, very quick and I think she will be respected by all.”
While the former Fox News anchor struggled under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who kept her blocked out of his inner circle, Nauert built a rapport with current Secretary Michael Pompeo, who came to trust her as a reliable voice and advocate for Trump’s agenda.
White House aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believe Nauert’s key assets include strong communications skills and a fluency with the Trump White House, particularly in understanding the thinking of the president and secretary of state. Trump was also impressed with her performance at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina last week, according to two people familiar with the matter.
A key question with Nauert, 48, will be whether the president keeps the UN envoy job as a cabinet-level position, or downgrades it to report through Pompeo, as other administrations have sometimes done. Haley successfully argued for a cabinet-level post and wielded broad influence, carving out her own authority separate from Tillerson.
“Nauert is a very good public operator, and should do a professional job presenting US policy at the UN,” Richard Gowan, a senior fellow at the United Nations University’s Center for Policy Research, said in an email.
“It is less clear that she has the experience to hammer out hard deals with China and Russia over problems like Iran and North Korea.”
Nauert won’t face an easy confirmation given her lack of experience and the likelihood that she’ll be asked to answer for the Trump administration’s scorn for international bodies, including the UN. In a speech in Brussels this week, Pompeo made his doubts about the organisation clear, asking, “Does it continue to serve its mission faithfully?”
Among its flaws, he cited peacekeeping missions that “drag on for decades,” climate treaties that he said serve only to redistribute wealth and what he called its anti-Israel bias.
“Pompeo’s Brussels speech trashing the UN this week lowered our expectations for US policy at the UN, whoever is ambassador,” Gowan said.
“It looks probable that the US will aim to marginalise the UN for the rest of Trump’s term, in contrast to the Haley era.”
Haley surprised White House officials in October when she said she would resign by the end of year, citing the need for a break after two terms as governor and two years at the UN.
Her trusted relationship with Trump was clear when he hosted an Oval Office farewell for her and she vowed to campaign for him in 2020.
The president picked Nauert after considering other potential nominees including former White House aide Dina Powell, ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft, former US Senate candidate John James of Michigan and ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell – who was a favourite of National Security Adviser John Bolton.
If Nauert wins Senate confirmation, she will face a broad agenda at the UN topped by the need to maintain international sanctions on North Korea.
Haley rallied global support for tougher measures in 2017, when Pyongyang ramped up its ballistic missile and weapons testing, but there has been increasing pressure from other countries to ease up on the restrictions since Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un in June.
She’ll also take up the administration’s efforts to defend Israel at the UN and counter what Haley called the organisation’s bias against the Jewish state. In a sign of the difficulties the administration has had, the UN General Assembly on Thursday rejected a US-sponsored resolution condemning Hamas, the Islamist group that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.
At the State Department, Nauert scaled back what had previously been daily news conferences in previous administrations, sometimes making them just once-a-week events. She was widely criticised when she joined Pompeo on an emergency trip to Saudi Arabia in October following the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The sombre mission appeared to be forgotten as Nauert posted a tourist-style photograph of herself smiling in Riyadh.
Nauert has indicated a priority for her is the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority. She travelled to the region last year, eventually joining Tillerson when he visited the country’s capital for the day. But she was shut out from his entourage and didn’t take part in any of his meetings.