Washington's incoming UN ambassador sign of declining diplomatic clout

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Heather Nauert joins long list of Trump appointees with history of making controversial anti-Muslim statements

Heather Nauert has served as US State Department spokeswoman since April 2017 (Reuters)
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Friday 14 December 2018 13:21 UTC
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WASHINGTON DC - Nikki Haley has been described as moderate, pragmatic, powerful and fearless - and for two years, the outgoing US ambassador to the United Nations spearheaded some of US President Donald Trump's most nationalistic and controversial policies on the world stage.

On Friday, Trump revealed Haley's replacement at the international body, confirming that he intends to appoint US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, a former Fox News correspondent, to the position.

The contrast between Haley and Nauert's respective credentials and diplomatic experience couldn't be more stark.

According to Daniel Benjamin, a State Department counterterrorism coordinator during the Barack Obama administration, Nauert's appointment shows that Trump and his top officials are looking to firmly control US foreign policy.

Those officials include US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, who are seeking to limit the power wielded by the US ambassador to the UN, CNN reported on Friday.

"I do think what was particularly important to Bolton and to Pompeo was to have someone who was not going to be an independent actor or a power centre all by herself," Benjamin told MEE.

"In that regard, probably they're not too upset to see Nikki Haley go because Haley was pretty independent compared to what we're likely to see from Nauert."

I do think what was particularly important to Bolton and to Pompeo was to have someone who was not going to be an independent actor or a power centre all by herself

- Daniel Benjamin, former state department official

Bolton, an ambassador to the UN under president George W Bush, is especially well-known for his hostile stance towards the international body.

"The secretariat building in New York has 38 storeys. If you lost 10 storeys today, it wouldn't make a bit of difference," he said of the UN headquarters in 1994.

According to Benjamin, who is director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth University, Nauert is the least-qualified candidate ever to be named to the UN post.

He said US influence is at a "low ebb," partly because of the absence of empowered ambassadors under Trump.

Nauert's appointment, he added, will further diminish Washington's "ability to have an impact on world events" through its place at the UN.

While Nauert must still be confirmed by the US Senate, Benjamin said she will easily get the approval of the Republican-controlled chamber.

"The Senate has shown that it will confirm just about anyone the president puts forward," he told MEE.

Nauert and the Middle East

During her tenure as a State Department spokeswoman, Nauert largely stuck to the department's official script, often deflecting questions about US allies, including Israel.

Nauert blamed Hamas for the crisis in Gaza, including Israeli violence against peaceful Palestinian protesters.

"Let’s remember in large part what has gotten the Israelis and Palestinians to this point, and that is Hamas," she said at a state department briefing last month. "And Hamas bears the ultimate responsibility for the misery of the people living in Gaza and in some of the surrounding areas."

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Nikki Haley's key moments at the UN

Asked about Israel's plans to demolish the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar in spite of protests from the European Union and US lawmakers, Nauert framed the issue as an Israeli legal matter, referring the reporter who posed the question to the Israeli government.

Nauert was criticised last month when she posted a tourist-style Instagram photo from outside a royal court in Riyadh; she was in Saudi Arabia on an official visit with Pompeo to discuss the fallout from the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"If I were the State Department's spokesperson, on an official trip to learn more about the dark, dubious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a US resident, I probably would have skipped the tourist-in-Riyadh photos. But that's just me," NBC correspondent David Gura wrote on Twitter at the time.

'Unqualified and Islamophobic'

Nauert joins a long list of Trump appointees with a history of making controversial anti-Muslim statements.

In 2016, she tweeted a New York Times story on Muslim Americans' concerns about the rise of Trump, writing: "Omg-They should meet #ISIS."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) slammed Nauert's nomination on Friday, calling her "unqualified and Islamophobic."

According to CAIR, while at Fox News, Nauert interviewed "notorious Islamophobes," including Robert Spencer, Frank Gaffney and Nonie Darwish.

Commenting on religious accommodations offered to female swimmers at a community pool in Minnesota, Nauert said in 2013: "Sharia law is now changing everything."