Despite vocally defending Trump's 'America first' policies at the U.N., Haley worked behind the scenes to smooth the U.S.-U.N. relationship.
UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley will step down at the end of the year, President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday, saying her replacement could be named in the coming weeks.
“She told me probably six months ago,” Trump said of Haley’s decision to resign, “maybe at the end of the year – at the end of a two-year period … ‘I want to take a little time off.’ ”
“She’s done a fantastic job; we’ve solved a lot of problems,” he added, saying the role of U.N. ambassador had become more glamorous since she took the job 21 months ago.
A senior foreign policy voice
Haley was one of the first cabinet members to clear the Senate confirmation process, positioning her as a leading foreign policy figure early on in the Trump administration.
Her stint as America’s top diplomat in New York saw her spearhead a U.S. drive to slash the U.N. budget. Eventual budget cuts were far lower than Trump’s budget team initially demanded, but still totaled more than $1 billion.
“While her efforts to reform the U.N. were largely motivated by budgetary considerations, they triggered some much needed introspection about the efficiency and performance of peacekeeping missions,” Ashish Pradhan, senior U.N. Analyst for the International Crisis Group, said of Haley’s tenure.
Compared to her predecessor, Samantha Power — whose ability to set her own agenda was often reigned in by Secretary of State John Kerry — Haley maintained a degree of policy independence during Trump’s first year in office under then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. She emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Russia within the Trump administration, slamming the country’s human-rights record and support for the Syrian government.
She also broke rank with senior officials and Trump himself over a decision to further slash the number of refugees allowed to resettle to the U.S., and was barred from a key White House meeting on the matter by Stephen Miller, one of the president’s top aides and a noted immigration hawk.
Miller’s increasing stature within the administration, the April hiring of National Security Adviser John Bolton — a vocal critic of the U.N.’s multilateral approach — and Tillerson’s replacement two weeks later with the more involved Mike Pompeo at the top of the State Department hierarchy all appear to have weakened Haley’s influence within the cabinet and her ability to steer policy.
Vocal defense of ‘America First’
The changing face of the Trump administration also portends a rockier U.S.-U.N. relationship following Haley’s resignation.
“She disrupted the status quo and her relations with many counterparts was frosty at times,” Pradhan said. “But she maintained a good working relationship with [U.N. Secretary-General] Antonio Guterres, which was an important channel between the U.S. and the U.N. The fear now is whether the person who replaces her will take an even tougher line against the U.N.”
Yet Haley also will be remembered for towing the party line and defending several controversial administration actions on the world stage.
After Trump announced his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Haley warned U.N. members that Washington could withhold foreign assistance to those who formally condemned the U.S. action.
“When we make generous contributions to the U.N., we also have a legitimate expectation that our goodwill is recognized and respected,” Haley told fellow U.N. member states last December.
That threat ultimately led about two dozen states that typically vote against the U.S. and Israeli within the U.N. General Assembly to abstain from condemning the embassy move, although 128 countries still denounced the Trump decision.
In June, Haley took the further step of withdrawing the U.S. from the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying the body had failed to tone down its frequent criticism of Israeli policies.
She also has led efforts to convince members of the Security Council to suspend business with Iran, even inviting foreign diplomats to tour a U.S. government warehouse that contained the purported remnants of an Iranian missile that Yemeni rebels launched at Saudi Arabia.
Her appeals on Iran continued during recent meetings of the U.N. General Assembly but have largely fallen on deaf ears, as the remaining parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have signaled little willingness to breach the agreement. Undeterred, Haley said Tuesday that, “it was a blessing to go into the U.N. with body armor every day and defend America.”
The future plans for the popular former South Carolina governor are not immediately clear, though she said Tuesday she does not intend to run for president in 2020.
Haley’s enduring popularity among Republican voters nationwide was documented in March in a Morning Consult/Politico poll, in which she emerged as the second-most popular Trump administration official behind Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Benefiting from the experience of a senior cabinet role and enjoying a degree of separation from the messiest parts of Washington politics, many see Haley as a candidate well-positioned for a run for higher office, a notion Trump himself seemed to endorse on Tuesday.
“We’re all happy for you in one way, but we hate to lose you,” he said. “Hopefully you’ll be coming back at some point, maybe in a different capacity – you can have your pick.”