Nikki Haley to leave as US ambassador to UN by year-end, says President Trump
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Nikki Haley to leave as US ambassador to UN by year-end, says President Trump

Nikki Haley was appointed to the UN post in November 2016 and last month coordinated Trump’s second trip to the United Nations, including his first time chairing the UN Security Council.

world Updated: Oct 10, 2018 23:50 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Nikki Haley,United Nations,US ambassador
United Nations (UN) ambassador Nikki Haley speaks to the media ahead of the start of next weeks General Assembly meeting at the United Nations in New York City on September 20.(AFP File Photo)

Nikki Haley, the first Indian-American to hold a cabinet position in the US, has resigned as ambassador to the UN, taking many even in the Trump administration by surprise and triggering speculation about a run for the White House.

Haley will leave at the end of the year, President Donald Trump said in a joint announcement with her from the White House. He said he is looking at several people as a possible replacement, and could make an announcement in two or three weeks or even sooner.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka has been named by some as a possible successor. Haley was effusive in her praise of Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner at the announcement.

Others being speculated about are Dina Powell, former deputy national security adviser, and Richard Grenell, the US envoy to Germany, who has had an eye on the UN ambassadorship for a long time.

In her opening remarks, Haley ruled out a run for the White House on her own. “No I am not running for 2020 (the year of the next presidential election),” she said. Turning towards Trump, she added, “I can promise you what I will be doing is I will be campaigning for this one. I look forward to supporting the president in the next election.”

Haley’s exit was greeted with as much surprise as her selection as the US ambassador to the UN in 2016. She had been a two-term Republican governor of South Carolina state, and had no exposure to foreign policy, other than leading state delegations abroad.

She went on to become one of Trump’s most trusted cabinet members, and they got along famously despite differences on some key issues. She emerged as the strongest defender of Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, his move to tear up the Iran nuclear deal and to pursue peace with North Korea.

Speaking highly of her and her contribution to his administration — “you have been very special to me” —Trump said of her role at the UN: “She got to know the players. She got to know China, Russia, India. She knows everybody on a first-name basis and they like her.”

Haley got to know the Indians quite well. “We lost our best US ally at the UN in a long time,” said an Indian diplomat, pointing to the most recent example of the support they received from her, when she brought external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to meet Trump at a UN meeting.

Haley also made a successful visit to India in July, during which met the top leadership in New Delhi, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Swaraj. She pressed them to cut oil imports from Iran in view of upcoming sanctions but had conveyed to them US willingness to work with India on Chabahar port in Iran that India has helped build and runs as a gateway into Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Her parents came to the US from the Punjab. She grew up in South Carolina and went into politics there at a time few Indian-Americans could even consider such a career path. She won elections to the state assembly, and two terms as governor.

On her appointment as ambassador to the UN, she became the first Indian-American to hold a cabinet rank position, a milestone that earned her widespread respect in the community, even among Indian-American Democrats.

Haley is a rising star for Republicans and has been on every shortlist of those that the party believes can make it to the White House. Speculation about a presidential run by her has been whispered about for long, especially among Republicans unhappy with Trump’s unorthodox presidency.

That’s what Haley dealt with in her opening remarks, even before she was asked by reporters, as speculation about a presidential run had started within seconds of the news of her resignation, which had been among the best kept secrets of a White House known for leaks.

Trump told reporters Haley had first told him about her desire to leave six months ago. “She said, ‘Maybe at the end of the year, the end of the two-year period, at the end of the year, I want to take a little time off.’”

Trump clearly was not happy to see her go. “So, I just wanted to tell you, we will miss you, we’ll be speaking all the time, but we will miss you,” he said.

No departing member of the administration has been accorded a farewell anything like this, not former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, former NSA Michael Flynn, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, former chief of staff Reince Priebus or former spokesperson Sean Spicer.

The White House joint announcement spoke, according to observers of this White House, of the respect Trump has for Haley, to whom he said: “Hopefully you will be coming back at some point, in a different capacity, you can have your pick.”

First Published: Oct 09, 2018 20:00 IST