Nikki Haley: 'United Nations Could Benefit From a Fresh Set of Eyes'

The South Carolina governor is Trump's pick to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

January 18, 2017, 12:19 PM

— -- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined a forceful policy for countering Russian aggression, becoming the latest Trump Cabinet pick to take a more confrontational approach to Russia than he has personally recommended.

"I don't think we can trust them," Haley said of Russian leaders. "Russia is trying to show their muscle right now, it is what they do."

Testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Haley said she believes Russia committed war crimes in Syria when it indiscriminately bombed hospitals in Aleppo.

"We need to let them know we are not OK with what happened in Ukraine, in Crimea and what is happening in Syria, but we’re also gonna tell them that we do need their help with ISIS and with some other threats that we all share," she exclaimed.

Trump has said better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin would be an asset to his presidency. He has repeatedly doubted the intelligence community's assessment that Russia hacked the 2016 presidential election.

Haley also rejected the need for any Muslim registry in the United States, as well as a registry for any subset of Americans. However, she seemed to support the president-elect's latest proposal to ban individuals arriving from countries known to be home to terrorists, saying, "We need to watch which countries have terrorists."

After the Security Council passed a resolution calling for an end to Israeli settlements, Trump lashed out on Twitter, calling the U.N. a "club for people to get together, talk and have a good time." He has said the U.N. is not a friend of Israel.

Haley also blasted the U.N. for that vote, which the Obama administration chose not to veto, and said that "nowhere has the U.N.’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel. ... Last month’s passage of U.N. Resolution 2334 was a terrible mistake, making a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians harder to achieve.” The Obama administration has argued that more settlements impede the chances of a two-state solution.

At today's hearing, Haley called the resolution "a kick in the gut to everyone."

"When we basically abstained from 2334 we made Israel more vulnerable. We made America more vulnerable in that we don’t stand by our allies," she said. "We need to let the two bodies resolve this themselves. That is what has always taken place and I think it’s dangerous when the U.N. starts to tell two different bodies what should and shouldn’t happen."

She added the U.N. Security Council has an "obsession" with Israel.

Regarding North Korea, Haley said the hermetic nation is "getting to be a very dangerous situation” and that she would seek to use China's influence to help address the nuclear threat.

On the Iran nuclear deal, Haley did not say she would rip it up, as Vice President-elect Mike Pence has promised to do in the administration. But she said she would hold Iran accountable to any violations of the deal. Many observers believe that's one way the Trump administration could potentially scuttle the deal -- by proving Iran violated the terms.

In her prepared remarks, Haley vowed to be “a strong voice for American principles and American interests, even if that is not what other U.N. representatives want to hear. The time has come for American strength once again.”

She said she believed the U.N. could “benefit from a fresh set of eyes. I will take an outsider’s look at the institution.”

Nimrata “Nikki” Haley, (born as Nimrata Randhawa) is the daughter of Indian immigrants and the first female governor of her home state, South Carolina. She drew national attention in 2015 for her work to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state's Capitol grounds following the Charleston church shooting.

She also delivered the Republican response to President Obama's final State of the Union speech in January 2016.

Despite her popularity in the Republican Party, Trump's decision to ask her to serve in his administration was somewhat surprising given their frequent spats during his presidential campaign. Haley campaigned for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and actively campaigned against Trump in South Carolina.

"I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK," Haley once said on the trail with Rubio of Trump. (Trump has since repeatedly disavowed their support.) "That's not who we want as president."

Trump shot back on Twitter, saying "the people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!"

Haley tweeted back, “Bless your heart.”

After her 2016 State of the Union response -- which was critical of Trump's brand of politics -- Haley told ABC News' Jonathan Karl that Trump is one of the "angriest voices" and should not "throw stones" over political disagreements.

"The one that got me, I think, was when he started saying ban all Muslims," she said after Trump proposed barring all foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. "When you've got immigrants that are coming here legally, we've never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion."

But after Trump won, she agreed to meet with him on Nov. 17 and the next day, speaking at the Federalist Society, she said his election was a rejection of both parties. “We must accept that Donald Trump’s election was not an affirmation of the way Republicans have conducted themselves,” she said. “He did not do it by celebrating the Republican Party.”

Outgoing U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, who was appointed by Obama in 2013, delivered her final address to the U.N. on Tuesday and directed much of it at the incoming Trump administration and its relationship with Russia.

"I know some have said that this focus on Russia is simply the party that lost the recent presidential election being 'sore losers,' but it should worry every American that a foreign government interfered in our democratic process," Power said, referencing the intelligence community belief that Russia hacked the election and Trump's seeming reticence to take a harder stance on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Power also advocated continued allegiance to NATO, a Western alliance Trump has labeled "obsolete."

"We must reassure our allies that we have their backs, and ensure that Russia pays a price for breaking the rules. That means maintaining our robust support for NATO, and make clear our nation’s steadfast commitment to treat an attack on any NATO member as an attack on us all."

Today, Haley agreed the U.S. needs to support NATO.

"NATO has obviously been an alliance that we need to keep and I think that we continue to talk to [Trump] about these alliances, about how they can be helpful and strategic in the way that we move forward," Haley said. "I do anticipate that he will listen to all of us and we can get him to see it the way we see it."

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