At her confirmation hearing, Nikki Haley decries U.N.'s position on Israel

Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, used her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to attack the world body for what she called its bias against Israel, a position that put her in sync with most of Congress.

Haley told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she “absolutely” supports President-elect Trump’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Few countries have done so because Jerusalem is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom want it as their capital.

The two-term Republican governor of South Carolina lacks experience in international affairs, and it sometimes showed at the hearing. But she argued that her efforts to solve problems and build coalitions in state government had prepared her for global diplomacy. 

Trump has spoken dismissively of the U.N., and Haley’s role may be secondary in an administration that has signaled plans to upend U.S. foreign policy.

Haley, 44, sought to reassure the committee that she would try to moderate Trump’s negative views of the U.N. and of the NATO military alliance in Europe, which he called “obsolete” over the weekend.

“Those are his opinions as they stand now,” she said. “I look forward to communicating to him … the importance of alliances [and] that the U.N. matters.

“I do anticipate he will listen to us,” she added. “I hope we will get him to see what we see.”

But she also appeared to back a less activist role for the U.N., saying it had “overstepped” and should not “insert itself into what other countries do.” And she declined to commit support for the U.N.-sponsored Paris Agreement to fight global warming, which nearly 200 countries have signed.

Haley was upbraided when she said the year-old international accord to block Iran from developing a nuclear weapon will allow Tehran to eventually build a bomb, and that the Obama administration gave it billions of dollars to do so by easing sanctions.

“What you just stated is completely inaccurate,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “I would encourage you to read the agreement.”

As has now become common with Trump’s top aides, Haley appeared at times to break with the president-elect — and with Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of State — when she repeatedly criticized Russia.

“We can’t trust them,” she said of authorities in Moscow. “The problem is there are no boundaries with Russia.”

Haley said “we are not OK” with Russia’s seizure of Crimea, its military operations in Ukraine and its military intervention in support of President Bashar Assad in Syria.

“But we need their help in fighting ISIS,” a common acronym for Islamic State, she said.

The Obama administration says Russian forces have attacked insurgent groups seeking to oust Assad but have provided no help to the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Asked about adding new sanctions against Russia, as many in Congress have demanded, Haley declined to advocate tougher measures without further consultation.

In contrast with Tillerson, Haley acknowledged that Russia committed “war crimes” in Syria by bombing civilian targets. And unlike Tillerson, she said U.S. policy toward Russia “came up” when she met with Trump.

In response to a question, she said she considered the extrajudicial killing of more than 6,000 alleged drug dealers in the Philippines to be a human rights abuse, saying she would speak against it.

“I’m prepared to speak up against anything that goes against American values,” Haley said. “We have always been the moral compass of the world.”

The questioning was triggered in part by Tillerson’s refusal at his confirmation hearing last week to condemn several governments with documented human rights abuses, including Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, saying he needed more information.

Her focus on Israel in her opening remarks was not a surprise. As governor, she drew national notice when she signed into law a bill that blocked efforts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the first state law of its kind in the U.S.

Trump, and many members of Congress, harshly criticized President Obama’s decision not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution last month that condemned Israel’s continued settlement expansion in lands claimed by the Palestinians.

After the U.S. abstained, the measure passed 14 to 0. Most of the world views the settlements as illegal and a major obstacle to peace.

“I would never abstain,” Haley said Wednesday. “That was the moment we should have told the world that we stand with our ally Israel. It was a real kick in the gut that we didn’t.”

Haley, the daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab in northern India, was born Nimrata Randhawa in South Carolina.

It was a time and a place, she said, in which her family was considered “not white enough to be white, not black enough to be black.”  Her father, who sat behind her, wore a red turban.

She attended Clemson University and served in the state Legislature before she was elected governor in 2010. She was reelected in 2014 and cannot run for a third term.

Haley was widely praised for her sensitive response to the mass murder of nine black members of a church in Charleston in 2015 by a self-described white racist, who was sentenced to death this month.

As the state grieved, Haley led bipartisan calls for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, a symbolic move that helped calm some of the tensions.

During last year’s presidential primaries, she was critical of Trump, asking voters to resist “the siren call of the angriest voices.” She endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) before he withdrew.

tracy.wilkinson@latimes.com

For more on international affairs, follow @TracyKWilkinson on Twitter

 

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UPDATES:

3:30 p.m.: This article was updated with details from the hearing.

9:30 a.m.: This article was updated with details from the hearing.

This article was originally published at 3 a.m.

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